In a profusion of color and sounds that dazzled the senses, Spring Awakening came alive at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. Masterfully directed by Michael Mayer, this Tony award-winning rock musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, is based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, who called it “a tragedy of childhood.” It was meant to serve as an indictment of parents and teachers who emotionally paralyzed children by keeping them in darkness as they discovered their sexuality, and the confusion that sets in as their bodies became alive with new feelings.
The story, set in a provincial German town in the late 1800s, revolves around a group of adolescent schoolchildren, played by an incredibly talented ensemble, who defy the adults in their lives and try to find answers to the questions precipitated by their emerging hormones – questions which the community of adults refuse to address.
Wendla, beautifully played by Christy Altomare, has no idea how babies are made and sings the lovely ballad “Mama Who Bore Me.” She says she’s too old to believe in the stork and begs her mother for the truth, which her mother comically avoids. The lack of such basic knowledge causes great pain later on, with devastating consequences as a result of her budding relationship with Melchior, played intensely by Kyle Riabko. They sing a striking duet, “The Word of Your Body.”
The story is told through exciting songs marvelously performed by this young, energetic, gifted cast, all of whom have powerful legit voices. Several outstanding numbers include a song about incest, “The Dark I Know Well,” marvelously sung by Martha (Sarah Hunt) and Ilse (Seffi D) and the boys, and the rousing “Totally Fucked,” sung by Melchior with the full company. Kudos to Brian Ronan for his sound design.
Another outstanding performance was given by Blake Bashoff as the wild-haired, amusing Moritz, one of the boys whose failure at school meets with parental disapproval resulting in tragic consequences. Also outstanding were Henry Stram and Angela Reed, who were quite convincing in creating distinctly different adult characters.
A particularly amusing scene was the masturbation sequence which was staged in a very funny, stylized manner. The tender love scene between Wendla and Melchior, graphically acted out while a minister is giving a sermon, is also quite compelling.
Other topics touched upon included wet dreams, child abuse, a backstreet abortion with a fatal outcome, homosexuality, rape, and suicide, subjects that are as relevant today as they were in the 1800s.
This outstanding production, wonderfully choreographed by Bill T. Jones, is framed by Christine Jones’ gorgeous period set with modern touches, stylistically supporting moving back and forth between centuries. The light design by Kevin Adams drenches the stage with glorious rich colors, using hundreds of suspended small light bulbs and neon fluorescents, again, bridging the two periods, with the costumes designed by Susan Hilferty adding the perfect finishing touches to a splendid production.
Spring Awakening plays Tuesday-Sunday Through December 7, 2008. Matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Check with box office for curtain times. 213.628.2772 or CenterTheatreGroup.org.