Childhood is an odd time. So much of the world is new; there are so many large, sincere questions. Adults seem to move in their own universe — one that's simultaneously enchanting and frightening. For teens, this conflicting desire and fear seems to increase exponentially. In some moments, nothing feels greater than to inhabit that mysterious grown-up world, with all its seeming privileges. Yet the knowledge of how to do this, where the secrets of the "real world" lie, remains hidden — and earnest inquiries to teachers and parents return cryptic answers, if any at all. Time and clumsily gained experience ultimately usher most of us into our adult lives. The experimentation we endure as we stumble awkwardly out of childhood is a timeless and universal rite of passage.
This held as true in 1906, when Spring Awakening: A Children's Tragedy by German playwright Frank Wedekind premiered, as it did 100 years later, when it was adapted into a rock musical. With book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik (who is perhaps better known for the mid-1990s hit "Barely Breathing"), the updated Spring Awakening won eight Tony Awards in its initial Broadway run. The story sticks close to the plot of the original play, following a group of young teens in 1890s Germany as they navigate their budding sexuality. Delving into complex and often painful issues such as teen sex, pregnancy, child abuse, same-sex attraction and suicide, the show has wrestled with perpetually taboo topics in all its incarnations. Through memorable and moving songs, the audience is taken along as the story's young protagonists do their best to figure things out amongst the machinations of the adults in their lives.
The production currently presented by NCRT and directed by Andrea Zvaleko is a particularly heartfelt one with greater emphasis placed on the emotion of the story than on hard-rocking beats. The live, onstage band, led by music director Jonathan Webster (full disclosure: Webster is a part-time employee at the Journal), includes an upright bass and a cello lending a softer, soulful sound to the score. As a whole, the ensemble seems particularly invested in accessing the feeling behind each piece. It is effective in inspiring empathy in the audience, but there are moments when it gets in the way of the clarity of the performance. It is the show's ballads that truly shine. In the opening number, "Mama Who Bore Me," actress Jessie Rawson is instantly captivating alone on stage as Wendla.
There is an inherent challenge in trying, as adult actors, to authentically portray children; you can tell when the performers are working overly hard at this and the effect is most sweet and convincing when it comes through naturally. As Georg, played by actor Dante Gelormino maintains an easy youthfulness well, as does Sonia Copple as Martha. The set, designed by Liz Uhazy, is simple and evocative, eschewing fixed scenery in favor of an open set for the actors to move around. Boxes are used to construct the various settings of the story — particularly effective here as it conveys the childlike capacity for imaginative play — and what is at once an oak tree can next be a school desk or a hayloft. It is unfortunate that the choreography for some of the numbers comes off a bit stiff and overly scripted, as it does not make full use of the flexibility of the set design. Overall, the cast and crew have put together an emotionally wrought production where the performers are clearly working to bring their all and leave it on the stage.
Spring Awakening continues its run through June 20. Performances held on Thursday through Saturday begin at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18. For information about specific performance dates or to make reservations contact 442-6278. This production contains strong language and mature themes and may not be suitable for all ages.
Unique original works from Dell'Arte International in Blue Lake are around the corner. Running June 4 through June 7, the second-year MFA students present the Storytelling Projects. Small groups will be led through a series of installations at the River Campus which will explore the range and power of narrative using a variety of performance techniques. On June 18, Mary Jane: The Musical III opens in the outdoor Rooney Amphitheatre. This hilarious ode to local (horti)culture returns in its third incarnation to kick off the 2015 Mad River Festival and will run through June 25. For more information about both shows call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.