Saturday, August 11, 2018

Spring Awakening—Staged!—SW Portland


     This dramatic musical, winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik from a play by Frank Wedekind.  It is directed by Melissa Myers, choreographed by Sacred Kaltenthaler and musical direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing for one more performance at the Artists Rep space, 1515 SW Morrison St., through August 11th (bless Artists Rep for giving them a home for this production).  For further information, go to their sites at

     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 (our current times mirror this somewhat).  This story has roots in other musicals like Hair and Rent.  And, like those powerful pieces, there are harsh lessons to be learned.

     This tale has a group of budding, young adults, being raised in a very authoritarian, private school, somewhere and sometime in Germany.  The teachers (as well as all adult roles, are played by Jessica Hirschhorn and Heath Hyun Houghton) concentrate on the classic artists of the time, such as Wagner, Nietzsche, Goethe and Luther and separate the classes by gender.  The teens’ parents 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 (Isaiah Rosales) and Wendla (Sofia Vilches), begin to experience each other in the “biblical sense” and discover the responsibilities and consequences of such actions.

     Another hyper, young man, Moritz (Paul Harestad) seems unusually disturbed by these feelings and is both repulsed and attracted to them.  Even his childhood friend, Ilse (Ronni Lee), who has run off to join an artists’ colony, gives him a glimpse of the freedom and depravities of giving into these desires.  And his father is of no help in understanding these strange new urges and longings, it was just something you didn’t talk about.

     Some, like Martha (Lauren Steele), 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 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 role models and mentorships, some questioning teens will have rocky adult lives.

     And the music/lyrics (Musical Director, Bray) shadows the story nicely and yet do not overpower it.  The choreography (Kaltenthaler), too, in such expressive number as, “Mama Who Bore Me,” and “Totally Fucked,” is explosive.  Houghton and Hirschhorn are powerful in demanding, multiple roles, oozing a Machiavellian mood everywhere they stepped.  The already mentioned leads, as well as the other students (Celie Straub, Annie Eldridge, Jon Matter, Jerod Packard, Jacob Skidmore and Isaac O’Farrell) composed an exceptional singing and acting ensemble, a tribute to the group’s training.  And Myers has done an outstanding job of staging it with the bare essentials so that the story, characters and music stand out.

     I recommend this show but, as I said, it is very adult in subject matter, so may not be for everyone.  It is reported that the final show, as was this one, is sold out but sometimes folks don’t show up so you might give it a try.  If you do choose to go, tell them Dennis sent you.
But, perhaps, the most important part of this organization, is its purpose.  From a personal perspective of a father on the fruits of its (and OCT’s Young Professionals Company) merits (his daughter, Haley, a much-touted actor as a teen in Portland) is currently playing Mercutio in a play at her college and will graduate this year with a theatre degree).  Anyway, here is his honest take on the company, from a personal letter to me:

“…wonderful alum opportunity Staged! offers its students/graduates. I know Paul Angelo and our new managing director, Paige Rogers, are already excitedly planning next year's shows based on the extremely positive feedback the cast and crew have given them about this experience.  Honestly, I'm just happy to have the chance to share the fruits of this program that was so important in Haley's trajectory, with you.”

     As most people may know by now, I am a fierce advocate for young people and promoting the advance of theatre training for them to build confidence, promote teamwork, build character and awareness, have a safe atmosphere to explore conflicting feelings and to have the opportunity to step into another person’s shoes and walk around in them, to see other perspectives on cultures, the world and life, itself.  Staged! is a 10-year-old company which “…continues to delight audiences by exploring those things that make us burst into song, focusing on musicals & actors telling stories together onstage.”
Their mission:  “Staged! exists to tell compelling human stories through song, and to nurture talent both onstage and off.  With musical theatre pared down to its to its essential musical elements—music, story and song—Staged! produces stellar musical theatre and provides pre-professional training to young people.”

     In this extremely explosive and negative atmosphere that we are currenting existing in, we need future generations that will have the character and courage to stand up to the strife and stress of this charged atmosphere and make changes that will help build a more compassionate society worldwide.  The sidebars are present now, with women forging the path for equality and respect, and Youth are standing up to the NRA and Congress to curb violence on the young.  What they seek, in part, is discovering Truth and Honesty and Compromise in building inroads and relationships, all of which true theatre folk must possess to be Artists.  The reason for our existence lies more in the writings of poets and dreamers, than they do in science and math.  Our Essence cannot be quantified.  Theatre training (full of explorers of this sort) is of use, both onstage and in the outside world, make no mistake about it!

     We also need more organizations that will support places for theatre companies to work, instead of developers/building owners only being concerned about the almighty buck.  Theatre companies are becoming orphans all the time for this reason but, even as nomads, they will not be ignored.  
     Invest in the Future, in the Arts and our Artists!


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