Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening

By Michael Small, A&E Editor originally published in Issue 4, Volume 30 of The University Register on Friday, November 3, 2017

Photo courtesy of Paul Leslie

[Note: Trigger Warning: This production includes several potentially triggering topics including suicide, child abuse and molestation, sex/implied rape, and others. If any of these topics may be triggering to you, please use discretion when attending this production.] [Editor’s Note: Major spoilers following the first paragraph.]

The UMM theatre discipline opened up their musical production of Spring Awakening on Wednesday, November 1, to the delight of Morris theatre patrons. The discipline is not opposed to putting on productions with riveting and controversial themes, but the original play ruffled many feathers. It was not until 1906 that it was given a staging, despite it being written in 1890. Even upon its debut to the stage in 1906, it was banned in many places and persisted to only be presented in a censored way until 1974, when it was shown by the National Theater of Britain. Director Ray Schultz explained in a GWSS Works in Progress presentation that the play contained themes that “would still raise eyebrows in 2017.” He listed the topics, “abortion, on-stage masturbation, premarital sex, teen suicide, sado-masochism,” and, he added, “I may have forgotten one of the other things.” Spring Awakening is set in late nineteenth century Germany. The story revolves around a group of adolescents who are faced with a sexual awakening. These characters are eager to have their questions answered about their sexual discoveries. However, society at the time greatly suppresses any thoughts or expressions of sexuality. Through strict and oppressive parents and teachers, these teenagers are left in a world of uncertainty. They then must rebel against their elders in search for answers.

All of the elements of the play converge into a well-oiled production. With an excellent live orchestra forming the underpinning of the actors’ vocal performances, the songs give insight into the minds of the youth. Schultz in his GWSS presentation shared that the main difference between this musical and others were the function of the songs. In musicals like Oklahoma, the songs serve to advance the plot; however, Schultz explains that in this musical, “songs function as outer or inner thoughts that are angsty and rebellious.” Tapping into the right balance of singing, chorus, and orchestration was not an easy task, but was ultimately accomplished well. Seraphim Suprenant, one of six girls in the production named Anna, praised Justin Anderson for his work blending audio and sound effects. Anderson’s sound design is in partial completion of his Theatre Arts Senior Project, with Lucas Granholm acting as his advisor. Anderson shared that Granholm and Schultz suggested that he find the “elegance in the simplicity, dialing back, and not overpowering.” Anderson’s favorite sound element was the use of distortion in the number “The Dark I Know Well.” The distortion added to the foreboding tone of adults speaking as Martha (Ariel Crabtree) and Ilse (Natalie Walraff) recall the child abuse they had been subject to.

The choreography compliments music, matching their tone and tempo to produce fluid musical sequences. The number “My Junk” is absolutely ravishing as The Girls, fantasizing, and The Boys, masturbating, flutter about the stage in teen wonder over their sexual revelations. With a blue tinted spotlight bearing down on Hanschen (Mickey Capps) at center stage, the Girls float around him like a dreamy carousel as he masturbates in rhythm with the music. On a more serious note, the choreography also complemented the more painful numbers. “And Then There Were None,” featuring Moritz (Ben Erickson), is a number that follow Mortiz’s failure from school and resulting rejection from his father. The Boys downstage dance gracefully in sync in such a manner that matches the somber tone of the scene, yet starkly contrasts Moritz’s stern and angry movement. The choreography of the scene punctuates the significance of the scene, it being the first time that Moritz contemplates the suicide he later sees through in Act II.

The actors displayed wonderful range and had varied dynamics. Moritz and Melchior (Evan Aenerud) formed a bond immediately in one of the first scenes revolving around a wet dream Moritz had. Moritz, falling behind due to falling asleep in class due to his restless dream, is frenzied by his struggle with his temptations. Melchior, on the other hand, is liberated and educated about sexuality, egging on Moritz to follow up his desires and not feel shame. Although his reservations unwind throughout the production, his nature is always frantic in comparison to Melchior’s relaxed demeanor. The two naturally bounce off of each others’ natures, convincingly fueling the transformations of each character. Another great dynamic is that of the central characters, Melchior and Wendla (Kathryn Rowles-Perich). Rowles-Perich is a seasoned actor; her part was in partial completion of her Theatre Arts Senior Project, with Shultz acting as advisor. At times, while both Wendla and Melchior are attracted to each other from the start, one is normally more upfront, and one is more reserved. However, this dynamic can switch on a dime and Aanerud and Rowles-Perich are always on beat. In one scene, Melchior resists Wendla’s requests for him to beat her with a switch. Yet when he gives in, he goes all in, eventually pushing her over and jumping onto her. This jarring twist happens in moments and requires a lot of expertise to play off realistically — and they deliver. As soon as the moment happens, Melchior 180’s again and runs out in shame. Last but not least, The Boys and The Girls have great group dynamics. In particular, The Girls stick with each other through thick and thin and it shows with how each actress is in tune with each other. Actors that were interviewed after the Wednesday production all attest that the amount of practice time that went into the production was an excellent opportunity to make new friends and strengthen relationships with old ones. The Girls come off as good friends behind stage due to their synchronicity in singing, dancing, and acting.

All in all, UMM’s Spring Awakening was a well-composed production. The sound, choreography, acting, lighting, and set design come together to make a coherent piece that grips the viewer. I almost cried at parts. Even though I saw the foreshadowing of Wendla’s death by failed abortion, it was enthralling to see Wendla escorted into the abortionist’s office, and then watch Melchior collapse at her grave in the end. I was especially affected by the funeral of Moritz. I knew from last issue’s preview by staff writer and actor Evan Aenerud that the show features themes of suicide, but I held onto the idea that it could merely be about implied or attempted suicide. I accepted in the first act that Moritz must have committed implied off stage suicide when he stormed off stage with a gun, but I was relieved when he was alive. Unfortunately, this relief didn’t last long. Erickson sold his performance from the start, and I felt what Aanerud portrayed when his character was struck with grief. I felt like I had lost a dear friend. When I saw Ben after the show to ask him questions, I thought “You’re alive!” All of these feelings were possible because everyone involved did a solid job and should feel proud of the production.

The show will play Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM, as well as a 2:00 matinee on Saturday. The tickets are $8 for students, $12 for general admission, and $10 for senior citizens. I highly recommend going!