Friday, May 9, 2014

In a word, Pit & Balcony's "Spring Awakening" is stupendous

Seated center is lead Ben Hendricks and at right with hand up is Nolan Good

review and photographs by janet i. Martineau

Where, oh, where to start with a review of Pit and Balcony Community Theater's production of the musical  "Spring Awakening," opening tonight (May 9).

There are so many avenues to pursue with it. So many.

So we will take the easy way and quote from director Tommy Wedge, who writes in his program notes, "This is not your average musical. It is so much more."

Indeed it is, and we applaud Pit for having the courage to stage this controversial show because the end result is stupendous, just stupendous.

The minimal yet stylistic set…the inventive and eye-pleasing choreography (also by Wedge)…the energetic acting and singing…the costuming and lighting… all just soar and are impossible to describe in words. This truly is one of the most visual shows Pit has staged.

And then there is its topic. In "Spring Awakening," which won eight Tony awards including best musical, 1891 meets 2007. 

Maggie Dehart, left, and Meagan Eager
Its script was written in 1891 by a German and deals with sexual oppression. Erotic fantasies, date rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide, abortion,  masturbation .... all there.

No wonder, back then, the play was banned and censored in Germany, New York, England. It is hard to believe it was written in another century because it is still edgy today.

Fast-forward to 2007 when to the play's words was layered on an un-oppressed contemporary rock/alternative music score with song titles like "My Junk," "The Bitch of Living"  and "Totally Fucked." More edginess.

Added to that we see and are asked to buy into a cast dressed in 1890s costuming, dealing with life as it was lived back then with their words, suddenly from  suit jackets pulling out microphones and singing the daylights out of a contemporary world song.

Nothing about this show should work. But it all does. And please don't be frightened by it.

Sitting there, taking it all in, and despite being nearly 70 years old, we flashed back continually to our own youth and sexual insecurities and repressive 1950s society. 

Suddenly we got to thinking, oh we weren't so different after all. We also got to thinking, oh if kids today see this show maybe they won't feel so different either. We got to thinking, oh this is truly what good art does.

Besides, it may call itself a rock musical but the music also is lush and memorable. And beautifully played by the seven-member orchestra.

Ben Hendricks and Meagan Eager are outstanding as the two leads, a young couple drawn to each other in a tragic way. No matter what they sing they nail it.

Nolan Good as Ben's distraught friend raises hair on the neck when he does an intense  meltdown song sequence.

Danessa Hellus and Carly Peil in the song "The Dark I Know Well," about family incest, punch us in the gut.

Ensemble work also propels this production, in particular in the songs "Totally Fucked," "Those You've Known"  and "The Song of Purple Summer."

And all of them, the entire cast, thanks to Wedge's strong directing hand, deliver acting performances that are just as strong as their singing skills.

Whatta show.

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