The Theatre Cedar Rapids production of “Spring Awakening” is exceptional.
Under the direction of Leslie Charipar and the musical direction of Janelle Lauer, an impressive cast delivers a deeply felt performance of a difficult and beautiful show. When considered alongside the many productions I have seen mounted by the Corridor’s varied and talented theater organizations, this performance ranks among the very best.
Written by Steven Sater with music by Duncan Shiek (and based on a 19th century German play of the same name), “Spring Awakening” centers on a group of young people struggling to understand their budding sexuality. Surrounded by adults unwilling or unable to help them—and these adults (all of whom are portrayed by either Jonathan Schmidt or Sara Maslowski) run the gamut from merely ineffectual to truly evil—the youths grapple with feelings they don’t wholly comprehend.
That may sound as though the show is just another angst-filled variation on the common theme of parents not understanding (or remembering) what their children are going through. But “Spring Awakening” elevates that premise to the level of true tragedy.
Nikki Stewart stars as Wendla, a young woman who pleads with her mother for the facts of life but is denied, leaving her vulnerable to her own urges and ignorance. Stewart sings beautifully, with both power and subtlety, and convincingly portrays Wendla’s teetering position between girl and womanhood.
Alex Doser plays Melchior, a brilliant and worldly young man seeking to throw off society’s shackles. His relationship with Wendla, which overwhelms him, undoes them both. Doser’s textured singing voice is marvelous, allowing him to grab the audience’s full attention from his first solo (“All That’s Known”). Melchior is the piece’s tragic hero, and Doser entirely inhabits that role.
David Wasserman portrays Moritz, a young man struggling to live up to his family’s expectations and to understand the erotic dreams that haunt him. Wasserman’s portrayal of Moritz is inspired; he captures the character’s physical and mental discomfort and renders it palpable for the audience. That discomfort is also made manifest in his singing.
Carly Herron is excellent in the supporting role of Martha, who accidentally reveals to her friends that her father abuses her. She reluctantly tells of the beatings, but holds something back, which she reveals to the audience in the song “The Dark I Know Well.” She sings the haunting song beautifully.
Each member of the cast is a strong singer, and each song, from tender ballad to raucous anthem, was exquisitely performed. The small onstage orchestra was perfect throughout the performance, underpinning the show’s emotion without ever distracting from it. Aaron Canterbury’s choreography, spare and stylized, was intriguing and in keeping with the tone of the performance.
The design team—Scott Ollinger, set; Derek Easton, lighting; Shawn Poellet, sound; Joni Sackett; costumes; and Daniel Kelchen, scenic art and props—has created an impressive environment for the action. Of particular note are the video screens of various sizes that are put to inventive use throughout, whether to create particular spaces, emphasize an emotion or idea, or to project the live action. Two banks of onstage audience seating are also an interesting part of the set. The cast makes use of these spaces, as well, more fully implicating the audience in the tragedy.
It must be noted, as Theatre Cedar Rapids has in all of the publicity materials, that “Spring Awakening” is rife with adult content. From an anthem with a title that can’t be printed in this review to onstage portrayals of sexual activity and physical abuse, this musical is unapologetic in its commitment to addressing its subject matter head on. Given the musical’s themes, however, none of this material is gratuitous.
I urge you to see “Spring Awakening.”
What: “Spring Awakening”
When: Through July 20; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 Sunday
Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
Tickets: $20 to $30 at TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org; limited $10 onstage seating only by phone
Warning: Rated R for adult situations and language