by Lorie Lewis Ham
Those of you who read my reviews know how important story is to me when it comes to, well everything. The story in the musical Spring Awakening is heartbreakingly amazing! Add to it some incredible music, and you have one of my favorite musicals, which opened this past weekend at the Selma Arts Center.
Spring Awakening is set against the backdrop of a repressive and provincial late 19th century Germany. It tells the story of teenage self-discovery and budding sexuality as seen primarily through the eyes of three different teenagers, though we also get glimpses into the lives of the other teenagers in the show as well. We see how horrible the consequences can be when adults try to shelter their children too much.
The rebel in the group is the brilliant thinker Melchior Gabor (Kai Di Mino) who has rejected the over protected world that the adults are trying to keep them in, and on his own has discovered the realities of life and sex–partially due to his intelligence and curiosity, but also due to the encouragement of the one adult in this story who is more open-his mother (Camille Gaston). Melchior’s best friend Moritz Stiefel (Jared Serpa) is the opposite of Melchior. He is struggling horribly in school and torn between wanting to know the truth about sex and being afraid to know–he also struggles beneath the weight of his parent’s expectations for him to do well. Wendla Bergmann (Kindle Lynn Cowger) is an innocent young girl who begs her mother to tell her the truth about where babies come from but is told nothing but lies-something that later has dire consequences for her. Sadly, Melchior’s fight against the rules ends up costing him, and those he loves, dearly.
The musical also deals with sexual and physical abuse, adults who abuse their power in other ways, and other teens struggling to understand their changing bodies with no one to help them. The result of all of this is tragic and powerful, but there are some funny moments along the way. The message here to parents is that over sheltering our children can often lead to tragedy. I can attest to this from my own teen years and worked to not do so with my own children.
I applaud the Selma Arts Center for being willing to take on this edgy, dark, and controversial show. The message is powerful and thought provoking and well isn’t that what great art should be?
Spring Awakening is a rock musical–the music reminds me a lot of Rent-another powerful favorite of mine. The songs are powerful, beautiful, moving, and incredible, and this talented cast does an amazing job. Not only are the solo moments beautiful, but the harmonies are amazing. The character of Moritz is a favorite, and Jared not only acted the role wonderfully, but sang perfectly. His heart wrenching song “Don’t Do Sadness,” sung together with Ilse (Meg Clark), was a highlight of the show for me. Kindle Cowger as Wendla perfectly portrayed the strong yet naive girl whose whole life is changed by loving Melchior-both for the good and the bad. Her songs were beautifully sung-at times innocent and at times heartbreaking and powerful.
I most recently saw Aaron Pierce, who plays Georg Zirschnitz, in the Selma Arts production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame where he played Clopin. He is one amazingly talented young man with not only an incredible voice, but a real presence on stage.
I also most recently saw Ben Deghand in their production of Hunchback. I loved his voice in that show, and he did not disappoint as Hanschen in Spring Awakening. He has a strong voice and brought some hilarious moments to the show as well. When he and Alex Figueroa (who plays Ernst) sing “The Word of Your Body” Reprise it is beautiful.
Another beautiful and sad song, “Left Behind,” featuring Melchior, is also one of my favorites. And the closing song, “Song of Purple Summer” which is performed by the entire company, spoke of new hope after the spring of awakening.
This is a strong cast and a wonderful production–I give major kudos to director Dominic Grijalva, whom I saw perform in the CMT production of this show in 2012. The stage, the lighting, everything was perfect, and the addition of the dancer (Justine Johnson) throughout the show to help portray the torment of the characters was brilliant.
Be warned this show well earns its R rating for adult situations, sexual conduct, strong language, and violence, but if you stay away because of that you will be missing something amazing!
Spring Awakening continues on stage at the Selma Arts Center, 1935 High Street in Selma, CA, through February 10. Tickets can be purchased by calling their box office 559-891-2238 or going to their website. Another nice touch to the show were the sign language interpreters from Visual Voices, who will be there for one more performance on February 9 at 7 p.m.
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