Based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind and set in late 19th-century Germany, Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of teenagers entering adulthood and discovering the hard – and sometimes deathly – truths waiting for them there. Wendla (Ashley Polidore) and Melchior (Kent Benwell) enter into a sexual relationship without understanding the ramifications; Ilse (Caralivia Levanti) and Martha (Alyssa Reed) are being sexually abused by adult males in their lives; Moritz (Justin Newkirk, also the director) is tormented by sexual thoughts and his father’s high scholarly expectations of him; Ernst (Cameron David Polidore) and Hanschen (Corey Buckley) enter a sexual relationship, which, if revealed, could destroy them both; and the adults (Michael Xavier Bevington and Sarah Devine) are absent at best and cruel and abusive at worst.
Newkirk has directed a sweeter, less conflicted and less angry version of the show than I’m used to; at first, I wasn’t sure if this was going to work, but I have to say it does. I’m not sold on all of his choices, but overall, the show was solid, the audience was engaged throughout and the cast were clearly enjoying themselves onstage, which I absolutely love to see.
My one main complaint was Ernst and Hanschen’s seduction scene; it’s meant to be nuanced – sad, sensual, romantic, heartbreaking, dangerous, even a bit humorous, but it’s not supposed to be played for a laugh. Here, unfortunately, it is, taking away any of its power (and allowing a serious moment to take on homophobic overtones).
Benwell, recently seen as Jesus in SLOC’s excellent Jesus Chris Superstar, makes for a somewhat flat Melchior; his voice more than makes up for his lack of charisma, however. Polidore has the perfect deer-in-the-headlights look for Wendla; she is not the strongest singer, but overall she succeeds here, especially in scenes with Benwell. Newkirk’s Moritz is a joy, and an audience favorite as well; his “And Then There Were None” is a highlight of the production. Levanti is stellar as Ilse; she has the perfect look and strong, soaring vocals, especially in “Don’t Do Sadness”/“Blue Wind” with Newkirk. And special kudos to Ashley Olmstead as Georg; for a smaller role, he stands out, not only for his star quality but his voice – what a voice. Utterly fantastic. I hope to see him on more area stages soon.
The set, decorated starkly with wood pallets and chalkboard paint from ceiling to floor bearing lines from the show and drawings was unlike anything I’d seen before, and I loved it. The stage isn’t a large one, and they utterly made this work for them.
This isn’t the strongest production of the show I’ve seen, but it’s one with a lot of heart, with a different feel than the show normally has; if you’ve never seen the show, go, because it’s Spring Awakening, and what are you waiting for? And if you have seen the show, go; see if this interpretation works for you, as it ultimately did for me.
“Spring Awakening,” Colonial Little Theatre, 1 Colonial Court, Johnstown; through April 22; $15; Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 762-4325; http://www.coloniallittletheatre.org/