To open Season 24, Actor’s Express presents a valiant effort with their production of the Tony-Award-winning musical Spring Awakening. Based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening follows a group of adolescents as they wrestle with the emotions and physicality of discovering sexuality. Through a series of innocent and uneducated (due to the tightly conservative social climate) choices, the group learns the dangers of society’s vacuum of silence.
Director Freddie Ashley and set designer Seamus M. Bourne have created a unique set that accents the industrial oppression presented in the musical. Crafted to look like an Nineteenth Century German factory, the set brings the audience into a different time and place. Likewise, Erik Teague creates brilliant costumes. The designs capture the punk rock angst of the teenage characters while being reminiscent of the period, and their choice to provide truly authentic costumes for the adult characters works well. Although Joseph P. Monaghan III’s lighting design realizes the director’s vision, it doesn’t capture the emotional intensity of several of the more emotional songs, specifically “Don’t Do Sadness” and “Totally F*cked,” which beg for a rock concert light show.
Powerfully acted in places and beautifully sung throughout, the production fails to present the emotional intensity and angst of the story. If anyone has followed Actor’s Express’ Facebook wall, it’s clear that the actors are excited and appreciative to be a part of the show, but this excitement presents itself too much and breaks through the emotions that their characters should be displaying. Except for Jimi Kocina as Otto (who displays the most realistic expressions throughout the performance), the younger cast smile at times when they shouldn’t. While smiling during musical numbers is standard in many musicals, it doesn’t work in this one.
Too many smiles in “Totally F*cked” ruin the potential of the number, which is smartly choreographed by Sarah Turner. While the song is stunning vocally and is still a crowd pleaser, it doesn’t capture the raw intensity it should have. Where is the teenage rebellion and anger? The buildup to the punkest part of the musical fizzles. When the cast should be letting loose pent-up teen angst, they are smiling and having fun, making the finale of the song incongruent with the rest of it.
As good as she was in last season’s See What I Wanna See at Actor’s Express, Kylie Brown cannot pull off the part she has been cast to play in Spring Awakening. Brown lacks the innocence that is inherent to the character of Wendla, and therefore, her performance doesn’t seem realistic. She sings the songs wonderfully and knocks them out of the park on a vocal standpoint, but her girlish mannerisms make her look more emotionally needy than naïve.
The true standouts among the younger cast include Jordan Craig as Melchior, Bernard D. Jones as Ernst and Jordan Harris as Hanschen. As the lead of the musical, Craig displays the right amount of confusion and naiveté as the cavalier Melchior, especially during his final scene. Both Jones and Harris provide superb comic relief during their scene with Jones’ shy portrayal a perfect juxtaposition to Harris’ arrogant character.
Greg Bosworth displays an inspired intensity as Moritz during “And Then There Were None” and “Don’t Do Sadness,” but his appearance does not match the character he is playing. Moritz’s half-shaved head and black eyeliner make him look as if he should be in the cast of Broadway’s American Idiot instead of playing the awkward, misunderstood and troubled Moritz who just wants to fit in and pass his exams. Nonetheless, Bosworth overcomes his appearance and delivers an emotionally charged performance.
On a pure acting standpoint, LaLa Cochran and Robert Wayne as the adult characters are most impressive. As they go back and forth playing parents and teachers, they often out-shine their younger cast mates. The “Left Behind” scene, in particular, is quite moving, and Wayne’s performance as Moritz’s father is gut-wrenching.
With an exquisite set, flawless vocal harmonies and Sater’s and Sheik’s powerful music, Actor’s Express’ Spring Awakening provides a thrilling and moving experience that should not be missed. Fans of the musical, especially The Guilty Ones*, will find it to be a mixed bag, but those coming into the musical fresh will be rightly amazed. This reviewer will be returning at least once more before the show closes on October 1. For tickets and more information please visit www.actors-express.com.
– A. Wesley
*The Guilty Ones is a fan club of the Broadway production and first national tour of Spring Awakening.