In 2007, “Spring Awakening” took the theatre world by storm garnering eleven Tony nominations and eight wins. Part of what set this rock musical apart from the others is that it was adapted from an 1892 German play by Frank Wedekind. A play that was written and takes place in the late 19th century is still topical and relevant in today’s world. Set in a conservative, some would say oppressive, society where children are segregated by gender for school, and taught Latin, literature and arithmetic. However, the happenings of the human body are strictly verboten. “Spring Awakening” explores the tumultuous experience of teenagers going through their sexual awakening with little, to no guidance outside of their own studies and hormones, and the consequences that arise from such exploration.
The cast of this production is spectacular. Vocally, they are on par with many Broadway touring productions. The harmonies in the group numbers are tight, the choreography is crisp and fun and the solos and duets are memorable. Janel Parrish as Wendla* portrays a haunting naïveté, while Matt Vairo has an understated grace, poise and depth as the wide-eyed idealist Melchior. Together they play out the beautifully tragic loss of innocence. “Those You’ve Known” at the end of the second act, and also featuring Chase Williamson as Moritz, is gorgeous and moving. Molly McCook as Ilse, Tiffany Gray as Martha and Payson Lewis as Georg each steal the spotlight with their own outstanding solos.
Unfortunately, it is the stellar voices of the main cast that in large part shine a very harsh light on the aspects of the production that just don’t quite make the grade. In comparison, the costumes, makeup and direction seem amateur. The intentions of costume designer Jessica Lively are clear, but the execution is lacking. Ilse has been exiled from the rest of the town and now lives in the artist’s colony. Lively, rightfully dresses her in such a way as to make her stand out as an outcast from the rest of the crowd. However, in a world of boys wearing knickers as part of the school uniform and girls wearing dresses ala “Little House on the Prairie”, Ilse enters the stage wearing a black tank top and Capri pants. At first glance she appeared to be a stagehand that had been caught on stage when the lights came up, or an actress that had simply forgotten to put on her costume. Upon her second appearance it became clear that that actually was her costume.
The hair and make-up designed by Jill Pugh had similar gaffs. For such an intimate venue, several of the boys were wearing entirely too much make-up. Yes, one of the boys is effeminate. That does not mean he needs to wear a bright pink shade of lipstick to punctuate that fact. It is also obvious that Georg is supposed to be sporting a similar hairstyle to the one worn by his Broadway counterpart. However, when done correctly it doesn’t look like tubes of hair on either side of the part. This was done incorrectly.
However, what proved to be the most distracting was the fact that each of the actors had their nude colored hairline mikes taped across their cheeks an inch from their mouths. It seemed as if they were trying to accomplish the “miked” look, like in RENT, but with mike packs that are specifically designed to be hidden. Then, just to add to the ridiculousness, the actors also used handheld mikes – presumably these were off and simply props since there was no feedback – for the majority of the songs. It was overkill, and distracting.
The immense talent on the stage threw into contrast every aspect of the play that could have been so much better. See it for the cast, but you’ll have to forgive it for its failings. However, be forewarned, this play is for mature audiences only as it does address issues such as child abuse, sex, suicide, violence and abortion.
Over the Moon Productions at the Theatre of Arts Arena Stage
Through April 22
Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com or 310-903-6150
*Janel Parrish is the understudy for Wendla but performed the night of the review
Kat Michels is a two time regional Emmy award-winning writer with an AAS in video production and a BFA in theatre.