Sunday, March 2, 2014

Spring Awakening—Clark College, Decker Theatre—Vancouver, WA

Teen Angst

This dramatic musical is written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik from a play by Frank Wedekind.  It is directed by Rusty Tennant and plays at the theatre at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way through March 15th.  For further information, go to their site at or call 360-992-2815.
Be warned from the outset, this is a very adult show.  “Growing up is hard to do,” as the old song goes, and in this case, could be deadly.  This story has roots in other musicals like Hair and Rent.  And, like those powerful pieces, there are harsh lessons to be learned.

This story has a group of budding, young adults, being raised in a very strict, private school, somewhere in Germany, possibly after the last Great War.  The teachers (Mark Owsley and Susie Vannatter) concentrate on the classic artists such as Wagner, Nietzsche, Goethe and Luther and separate the classes by gender.  The teens’ parents (again, Owsley and Vannatter) are equally harsh.  No adult influence gives any instructions to the sexual awakenings the teens will experience, or even how babies are made.

So, left to their own devices, they must content themselves with pictures from books, stories from their comrades or relieving the itch with private, sexual fantasies.  One young couple, Melchior (Nikolas Hoback) and Wendia (Petya Grozeva), begin to experience each other in the “biblical sense” and discover the responsibilities and consequences of such actions.

Another hyper, young man, Moritz (Gina Fuerte-Stone) seems unusually disturbed by these feelings and is both repulsed and attracted to them.  Even his childhood friend, Ilse (Wyley Thomason), who has run off to join an artists’ colony, gives him a glimpse of the freedom and depravities of giving in to these desires.  And his father (Owsley) is of no help in understanding these strange new urges and longings.

Some, like Martha (Brianne Kiso), even associate pain and abuse, from her father, with love.  And there is even the exploration of gay love between two young boys.  All their friends (Kiara Gaulding, Elena Mack, Warren Chapman, Nathan Willbanks, Sam Ruble and Zac Campbell) are going through similar “awakenings” but with no engine to guide this runaway train.  Without any adult mentorship, all this dawning of new days in their lives will come to naught, and even, in some cases, lead to tragic results.

Much like the above musicals I mentioned, there are no easy answers, just lots of hard questions.  But, in this case it seems, without positive adult roles models and mentorships, some questioning teens will have rocky adult lives.  The excellent lighting and set design by the director, Tennant, has the entire set as a chalkboard, where characters can write down their thoughts and feelings.

And the music/lyrics (Musical Director, Jim Liptak) shadows the story nicely.  At times, though, the music tended to overpower the singers, thus losing the words of the songs.  This was probably due to the inadequate acoustics of the space then any fault of the sound people.  For the most part, the miking of the show was very professionally done.

Tennant, the director, has done a very fine job with casting the show and doing such inventive blocking, so the story seemed like a whirlwind, always on the move and changing.  He has assembled a terrific cast of young singers, some of them making their stage debut in this show.  But their lack of experience never showed, as each and every one of them made a positive impression.  Hope to see more of Tennant’s work, and these young people’s.

As I said, the casting was first-rate.  Hoback and Grozeva did a great job, both in singing and acting, of two very difficult roles.  Thomason, as the wayward friend, projected a melancholy in her role that spoke of freedom but with a price.  And Owsley and Vannatter, as all the adult roles, were super, oozing a Machiavellian mood everywhere they appeared.

But, talk about a diamond in the rough, Gina Fuerte-Stone is extraordinary!  She owned the stage every time she appeared.  Not only did she play a boy but this was also her stage debut, no easing into the arts for her.  When she belted her songs, you could tell her whole heart and soul were into it.  And the tearful monologue she has in the second act was beautifully delivered.  This is a career on the verge of explosion.  I positively predict artistic success in anything she does!

I recommend this show but, as I said, it is very adult in subject matter, so may not be for everyone.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.

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