Spring Awakening, which debuted on Broadway in 2006 and garnered eight Tonys, including Best Musical, is currently being presented at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. The title is a euphemism for journey of self-discovery taken by a group of young people experiencing the first, confusing stirrings of sexual desire.
Several hundred young actors from Long Island and Manhattan auditioned for the Long Island Professional Premiere enabling SCPA to assemble a stellar cast.
It is also often said that the more things change, the more they remain the same, so perhaps we should not be too surprised that the musical is based on German dramatist Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play which generated controversy in Germany and the US because of its frank treatment of adolescent sexuality, child abuse, abortion and suicide. Although retaining its early 19th century Germany setting , the book and lyrics by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s music catapult the story into the 21st century.
The subject matter is raw and intense, and if you squirm in your seat, it’s because the show boldly tells it like it is.
From the onset, the angst and the contradictions with which these young people live are disturbingly apparent. Take Wendla ( Ashley Reyes), who is told by her mother (Joan St. Onge) that she is too old to wear a certain dress because she has already “blossomed.” Yet when Wendla begs her mother to tell her how babies are made, her mother is so threatened by her daughter’s budding sexuality that she withholds life-altering information.
Another hapless student, Moritz (Danny Gorman), rendered sleepless by disturbing dreams, is relieved to learn from the most outspoken and sexually brazen of his friends, Melchior (Dylan Whelan) and his fellow classmates that they are also experiencing sexual fantasies.
Reyes, Whelan, and Gorman, and the entire young cast illuminate the stage with their gifts for acting and song under Ken Washington’s skillful direction. The adult leads, played by St. Onge and Matt Langen, are equally good in their portrayal of compassionless , interchangeable authority figures too concerned with appearances or threatened by youthful curiosity to offer constructive guidance. The consequences are disastrous.
The musical numbers alternate between the poetic (“The Word of Your Body,” “The Song of Purple Summer,”) and those which express rightful exasperation and anger about society’s restraints (“Mama Who Bore Me,” “The Bitch of Living,” “Don’t Do Sadness”); the gyrating, frenetic beat of rock music is a worthy vehicle for showcasing the latter. “The Dark I Know Well,” a duet about sexual abuse showcasing the talent of Martha (Marissa Girgus) and IIse (Emily Dowdell) is beautifully sung and hauntingly poignant.
Kudos to David Henderson for his minimalist set which rivets the eyes to on action onstage. Chris Creevy’s spectacular lighting, counterbalanced with shadow, provides emotional nuance. Musical director Cara Brown and choreographer Jamie Capodieci also deserve commendation.
Spring Awakening runs through August 20. For tickets, call the box office at (631) 724-3700 or visit smithtownpac.org.