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Hot Social Issues Addressed in 2007 Best Musical “Spring Awakening” – Must See Production at MMT

By: John Dwyer

“Spring Awakening” was a show that opened in 2006 and caused controversy. It did so on a number of levels. But before I get into that, for those who are taxed at reading too much (which…sigh! …are many. What ever happened to literacy?), “Spring Awakening” at Music Mountain Theatre is a show more relevant than it was when it opened and has extraordinary performances in the three young leads specifically. They are remarkably talented. In addition, other new faces to many local theatergoers also stand out.

ALERT: “Spring Awakening” contains adult material regarding coming of age. This is not “Beauty and the Beast” or “Seussical.” But anyone who wants to think, be moved, cry and hear some great singing and see some impressive acting should come to this show. Experience a musical that is like few others.

The musical is based on the play of the same name by German dramatist Frank Wedekind. Written in the early 1890’s, it did not get produced til November 20, 1906 at The Deutches Theater in Berlin. It was subtitled “A Children’s Tragedy,” as it portrays the damage done to sexually inquisitive youth by a repressive culture. Both then and now, the play has been banned and censored at different times. The plot line contains moments examining issues of incest, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, teenage suicide and abortion. So when I say that it was controversial as a musical of all things, you can imagine that…indeed…it was. Sondheim’s demon barber of Fleet St. seemed an odd choice for a musical. “Spring Awakening” seemed even odder.

The musical adheres almost precisely to the play. A fourteen year old girl Wendla Bergman asks her mother about sex and her mother tells her nothing. Wendla likes Melchior Gabor, a fourteen yr old atheist and intellectual, who has found what sex is about in books, as nothing is being told otherwise. His best friend is Moritz Steifel, who is having what he feels are weird dreams. Melchior tells him of his research and assures him that he is normal. Moritz is just realizing his sexual nature. Moritz is having a hard time with his studies at school. Wendla and her girlfriends meet an she confesses her feelings for Melchior. Her friend Martha says she is attracted to Moritz. She also confides that her father beats her and has sexually abused her. Without giving away too much, the plot progresses to the logical inevitable conclusion. Adults who are running things are not being truthful but are being both controlling and vicious. Their rigid, authoritarian, misinformed control causes MUCH harm. It leads to their children’s depression, misfortunes, being institutionalized and more.

Wedekind, both in his original work from 1891 and in the contemporary musical had a hard time telling the truth and getting produced. His work took over a decade to get to stage after he wrote it in 1891. The musical was conceived in the late 1990’s and finally was produced at the Atlantic Theater Company and then Broadway in 2006. But in a more accepting moment, it became the show to see. Today, more than ever, it is the show that you should see. That you need to see.

The repressed culture of the 1890’s is juxtaposed with a folk/ alternative pop rock score by Duncan Sheik. Though the music is counter to the period it is set in, it is perfect in that it is the revolt against the status quo. And in so far as that is so, the sounds of youth …angry, rebellious and sad… is the perfect music to be the counterpoint to the staid authoritarian status quo of the adults in the room. Winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Score and Book. The music was by Duncan Sheik and lyrics and book by Steven Slater

Hudson Orfe is brilliant as Melchior. His acting is seamless, making his last scene heart-breaking. His background includes Interlochen Arts and he is currently a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University. Sierra Safran both sings and acts the role of Wendla with such grace and honesty. You go with her on her journey from innocence to awareness. It is beautiful and sad, Evan Vistoso’s Moritz is actualized . At fourteen, Moritz is a man/boy and Vistoso nails that painful struggle…trying to grow up but being beaten down by all the adults around him. His Daniel Ratcliffe looks make him even more identifiable to the audience as he sings about last chances “And Then There Were None.” So many terrific songs but certainly the high energy “Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked” are memorable but so are, in counterbalance the haunting “Those You’ve Known” and the folksy “Mama Who Bore Me.”

Other standout performances include Amy Rose Johnson as the outsider Ilse, Soren Madsen as Hanschen and David Lazarus as Ernst Robel (the gay student couple), James Ligette as Georg Zirschnitz and Janna Collins as Martha Bessell. Special shoutout to Bill Weir and Regina Mercadante for playing all 9 different adult male roles and 5 different female roles respectively. It is a daunting task. In the musical, the decision was made to have only one actor play all the adult roles of their gender so as to suggest the facelessness of all the adults who merged into one…with the adolescents being the true individuals.

This show is more pertinent than ever. In 2006, both the subject matter and the rock score for such a heavy piece seemed improbable but it worked. But today, with books being banned in schools and debates over sexual orientation, gender identification and what are parent’s rights, students and children’s rights, “Spring Awakening” makes us all think even more than it did 17 yrs ago. Kudos to Music Mountain for mounting this work. And now to Jessica Bostock, who continues to amaze as a director. She continues to do extraordingy work as the director of Central Bucks High School's Harlequin Club.

I was blown away this spring by their "Anything Goes." It was an amazing show, not just because of the glorious talent there seems to be at that school currently, but because of her ability to get the best out of the people she directs…which shows in this production, as well. She has an extensive theater background and credits. Love this production. Just coming off of Gay Pride and with all the social issues that are in play dealing with adolescent sexuality, parents rights and the schools…Spring Awakening is perfect to see now! The show continues to July 9th. Tickets are available at at

Photos: John Dwyer

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