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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 13, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 02
Balagan's Spring Awakening shows up national tour
Arts & Entertainment
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Balagan's Spring Awakening shows up national tour

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Spring Awakening
Balagan Theatre
Through January 15, and April 12-21


Spring has poked its head up early this year with a two-week run of the angsty musical Spring Awakening (music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Steven Sater). Balagan Theatre has taken over management of the Erickson Theatre on Harvard Avenue, a space used primarily for Seattle Central Community College classes, until now. They're debuting Spring Awakening as a wake-up call that they're here, and boy howdy, they sure are!

Directed by Eric Ankrim, this 2007 Broadway musical is far more nuanced and story-focused than the national tour that came through Seattle a couple of summers ago. While the tour was more rock-and-roll and the anthemic nature of the songs was emphasized, the story elements didn't seem to hang together and the reasons why this woke Broadway up disappeared into spectacle and noise. Ankrim's local production with Kimberly Dare's musical direction slightly mutes the rock music and lets the songs and singers take appropriate focus.

Having seen the tour and wondered what the fuss was all about (besides a flash of nudity as two virgins make love on stage), I have to say that I finally 'get it,' including what I thought was an over-the-top and completely useless final song called 'The Song of Purple Summer.' This production makes it completely clear why that song is necessary and clarifies so many other aspects that were just confusing and noisy from the tour.

Spring has always been the time of heat for many animals, and awakening sexuality in young teens is the raison d'ĂȘtre of both the Frank Wedekind late-19th-century play and the modern rock opera about repressed German students. It's pretty clear that even young teens are well aware of their sexuality, and the play and musical are explicit about how a lack of information can even go so far as to kill you. Both the play and the musical also touch on child abuse, incest, heterosexual or homosexual preference or confusion, and how the hormonal surges in early teen years can so preoccupy youth that they can barely think straight.

Innocent and uninformed Wendla (Diana Huey) begs her mother to tell her how babies are made and her mother is so mortified, she barely chokes out that you're supposed to love your husband with all your heart. Later, when Wendla finds herself attracted to her childhood friend Melchior (Brian Earp), she's vaguely aware that there might be something fishy about getting physical with him, but it isn't until much later that she makes the connection between 'husband' and what her mother meant. And that connection is only made after she's become pregnant.

Schoolmates Moritz (Jerick Hoffer), Georg (Mike Spee), Hanschen (Justin Huertas), Otto (Bryan Gula), and Ernst (Ben Wynant) are so preoccupied with sexual dreams and attractions to female teachers, etc., that they can't concentrate on learning their Latin. Wendla's friends Martha (Brianne Wylie), Anna (Tatum Ludlam), and Thea (Solea Pfeiffer), while not shown to be as preoccupied in school, are certainly as hormone-struck as everyone else.

Moritz additionally represents those who don't fit in socially at school, being a bit strange, and in this case, even being ostracized by adult school administrators who don't want him to represent their idea of the school's graduating class, and flunk him. The rigidity of his parents' expectations cause him to feel like a permanent failure and drive him to commit suicide - an entirely too common and tragic teenage reaction.

The teenage girls have it pretty bad, as well. Martha and Ilse both sing about sexual abuse and physical abuse. Wendla goes so far as to entreat Melchoir to beat her just so she can try to imagine her friend's pain.

This young cast has some knockout performances, wonderful voices, and fearless acting. They are urgent, emotional, and committed. Ankrim has made sure that the in-your-face script (onstage sex, masturbation, and swearing) are as vibrant and pronounced as called for. This might not be a show to take kids younger than 12 or even 14 to, but really, teens know all this, you probably just don't talk as openly with them about it.

Huey's performance is nuanced, scared, and longing. She hits all the (character and singing) notes. Kirsten deLohr Helland is outstanding in a tiny role. Hoffer's Moritz is appropriately awkward, conflicted, and overwhelmed. As Melchior, Earp is assured, with a lovely singing voice. Earp, though, projects an older-than-he-is aura, and doesn't fit as seamlessly with the others as a teenager. Spee has a steal-the-show moment when he demonstrates his attraction to his piano teacher. Huertas stands out both for his assured seduction of his classmate, and for his assured accompaniment as a cellist in the small orchestra.

Mark Waldstein and Jeanette d'Armand play all the men and all the women in these children's lives, and bring humanity and even humor to their chameleon-like performances. D'Armand is especially funny as Mother in the beginning and as the object of a wet dream. The adult roles are somewhat unforgiving, like the 'blah blah blah' adult noises in Peanuts cartoons, so Waldstein and d'Armand do very well while not having much to work with.

The remaining January shows are sold out, but the Balagan will re-mount the play in April. For more information, go to www.balagantheatre.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/215408, or call 800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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