Spring Awakening, the 2006 musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's play from 1891, is currently being performed by William Peace Theatre in Raleigh, NC. This rock musical is a great fit for university theatre and is appealing to a wide range of mature audiences in the Triangle looking to be woken up this weekend. Note: this production is not intended for children and may make your ultra-conservative grandfather very uncomfortable (I almost felt sorry for the noticeably uneasy man sitting in front of me).
Dissecting themes of young love, forbidden desires, child abuse, abortion, and the sadness of adolescent suicide, this hard-hitting and exhilarating musical, if done well, creates a range of emotions and questions for its audience. William Peace Theatre has done a wonderful job telling this story. Contrasting the ideas of innocence versus ignorance, we are asked where the line is drawn.
Spring Awakening is set in the late-1800s in a small town in Germany. Wendla, played by junior Saywer Stone, an innocent girl who wishes to know the facts of life, is left in the dark by her mother, played by senior Hannah Murphey, and only told that babies are made, “When a wife loves her husband with her whole heart.” When the desires and affection of Melchior, the intelligent and radical teenage boy in town played by sophomore Delphon “D.J.” L. Curtis Jr., overcome Wendla, she is not sure what is happening as he touches her but hesitates and feels unsure. Through her doubts, Melchior persists. Well, there’s nothing like gray-area rape to end Act I.
Act II continues with sadness and rebellion, but now something has changed. “The Song of Purple Summer,” which ends the musical, describes the passage to adulthood that is reflected through Act II. Lighting design by Jennifer Mann Becker is exquisite in this production from the gel colors to the gobos, from the LEDs to the footlights. Act I uses amber and blue light, but as a result of Wendla and Melchior’s union, purple has entered the world and the landscape takes on new meaning – but not necessarily for the better. The complementing scenic design by alumna Sonya Leigh Drum is a versatile and beautiful playground that transforms to different locations while remaining stationary. The scrim along the back wall hides the musicians, though their presence is known by the occasional shadow or stand light. All around, WPT’s production has beautiful technical elements, direction, music, choreography, and some powerful voices to support this rock musical. Unfortunately though, the microphones on some actors were not always loud enough to compete with the heavy instrumentals. Costumes were suggestive of the time period, though with regard to casting, it was almost impossible to ignore that Curtis as teenage Melchior appears much older onstage than his counterparts.
Cutis’ performance as Melchior was occasionally faulted as he looked for the line between intelligent boy and defiant man. However, Curtis came alive in his songs, and his voice is the perfect fit for the role of Melchior. Stone’s character, Wendla, remained consistent and strong throughout and was complimented by her female counterparts. Playing two boys who have admitted desires for each other, Joshua Walker, playing Hanschen, and Melvin T. Gray Jr., playing Ernst, sang a reprise of “The Word of Your Body” that was touching, sweet, and beautiful.
Due to the snow last week, some performances were cancelled, so expect a full house when you attend. Get your tickets in advance or risk not seeing this great production! Spring Awakening at William Peace University will run for three more shows this weekend, until Saturday evening. For more details on this production and remaining performances, please view the sidebar.