Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Theater review: Spring Awakening at Ohlook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine
A powerful and poignant look into the struggles between the repressions of society and natural human instincts.
Spring Awakening (presented at Ohlook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine through July 22) is a rock musical adapted from the 1891 German play Frülingserwachen by Frank Wedekind about the trials and tribulations of being a teen. It features music by Duncan Sheik and is the winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. The original play was banned in Germany for its controversial content including sex, child abuse, homosexuality and abortion. While this adaptation is also for mature audiences only, don't let the shock value fool you. The musical has much to offer. The plot follows several boarding school teens that each make the journey into adulthood in very different ways. Duncan Shiek's melodic hooks compliment the youthful passion and angst of Steven Sater's book and lyrics. The story reaches your heart on many emotional levels while the catchy music seeps its way into your head.
The musical opens with Megan McCray as Wendla lamenting that her mother has given her "no way to handle things." The teen tells her mother that it is time she learns where babies come from, considering that she is about to be an aunt for the second time. Samantha Padilla plays Wendla's mother, Frau Bergmann, who hems and haws and makes us laugh as she awkwardly avoids the question. Wendla pleads with her mother, but after getting a vague response she is left disappointed and confused. McCray expresses her frustration in "Mama Who Bore Me" and the cast of girls join her in an upbeat reprise. McCray's voice is smooth and emotional. She is dynamic as the naive girl who goes to great lengths to discover herself.
Inside a boarding school, a group of boys are reciting Latin. In the classroom we meet best friends Melchoir and Moritz. Melchoir, played by Justin Labosco, is handsome and confident while Moritz, played by Sean Przano is disheveled and anxious. Moritz confides in his friend why he has been distracted from his schoolwork. He can't sleep at night because he has recurring dreams of women's stockings, and fears it might be an early sign of insanity. Melchoir assures his friend that everyone has those dreams.
With the knowledge he has gained about sex from reading books, he offers to explain everything to ease his friend's mind. Moritz is far too embarrassed to discuss such things but asks Melchoir to drop an "illustrated essay" into his book bag discreetly. All the boys in class break into a group song about their pent up frustrations. Choreographer Taryn Langton stages sharp movements and incorporates the desks in this stomping classroom number.
All the girls gather around to talk about boys. Several of the girls are intrigued by the dreamy free-thinking Melchoir, while Ilsa admits her secret attraction to Moritz. The boys join the girls on stage to sing "My Junk", a song which refers to the drug-like distraction of a serious crush. Later, McCray and Labosco share the stage alone in the duet "The Word of Your Body" as their characters fight the urge to hold each other's hand. Anticipatory staging from director Jill Blalock Lord expresses the conflict between Melchoir and Wendla's reluctance and desire.
Eventually they give into all temptation, though they don't fully understand the consequences associated with their actions. McCray and Labosco have good chemistry on stage. Labosco is a perfect fit for Melchoir. His performance as the charismatic rebel is both charming and powerful. McCray is convincing as the innocent and curious girl. When tragedy in the play befalls, Wendla is rendered helpless. Samantha Padilla once again acts as Wendla's insensitive mother. Padilla's performance as an infuriated parent adds intensity to the scene and McCray's reactions are heartrending.
Taylor Wallis plays Martha, a girl who admits to her friends that her father abuses her. The other girls are horrified by the confession but Martha makes them promise not to tell anyone lest she wind up homeless like Ilse. Bailey Frankenberg plays Ilse and together with Wallis sings a beautiful but unsettling duet "The Dark I Know Well." Both actresses show pain and sorrow on their faces. They cringe and push back against their offenders in choreography that illustrates the abuse Martha and Ilse experience.
Sean Przano accurately portrays a tormented teen in his performance as Moritz. He sings "Don't Do Sadness" with conviction as his character contemplates suicide. Ilse runs into Moritz and together Przano and Frankenberg harmonize in "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind." It is obvious during this bittersweet scene that Ilse and Moritz have a connection but each is too afraid to let down their guard. Later, Labosco, Przano and McCray sing a memorable "Those You've Known" in an eerie setting.
Labosco, McCray, Przano and Frankenberg are only a few of the talented performers in the cast. Xavier Lagunas, Preston Isham and JD Montgomery exhibit their vocal talents as Georg, Hänschen and Ernst respectively. Lagunas is comical as he tries to hide his lust for his piano teacher. Isham and Montgomery share a surprising, but touching moment on stage in their duet "The Word of Your Body Reprise." An emotional performance from Jay Garner sets the tone of tragedy in a moving scene.
The set design by John Garrison, Jill Blalock Lord and Matt Lord is simple but effective. Three platforms resemble scaffolding. Blalock Lord makes use of the different levels on stage, directing the cast to interact with the fragmented set. Additional platforms pull out from the scaffolding to act as graves. The LED lighting by Labosco, Blalock Lord and Wallis add to the multiple emotions expressed in the play. During upbeat rock songs, the lights are colorful and bright, while in tragic scenes they make the room feel cold and dark.
Costumes by Blalock Lord and Wallis, with the help of Dallas Costume Shoppe, look authentic. Designers often make the mistake of dressing all German characters like Bavarians in lederhosen. This large cast sports more authentic costumes. Suspenders hold the boys' short pants up over dress socks and shoes. The girls wear ankle boots and bloomers under their long patterned frocks. Music Director James McQuillen leads many remarkable voices while Taryn Langton choreographs several engaging scenes in this music-infused drama.
OhLook's production of Spring Awakening is a powerful and poignant look into the struggles between the repressions of society and natural human instincts. While this play criticizes the sexually-oppressive culture of 19th century Germany, it remains topical in our society today. In this script, the absence of education and the discouragement of curiosity leads to inevitable tragedy. It raises the underlying question: should carnal knowledge be forbidden?
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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