Melodramatics Theatre Company seduces audiences with 'Spring Awakening'

Spring Awakening Who Melodramatics Theatre Company, Inc.  Where Risley Theatre, Cornell University When April 5-14 Tickets $11-18 Mature Audiences. Review by Erin Elzo

Sex. It’s a word many kids hear whispered around the playground from a young age. And a topic many parents dread their child asking about.

Set in late-19th century Germany, the Broadway musical Spring Awakening explores sexual discovery through the world of a group of teenagers.

Each teen struggles in their own way to understand and cope, most of them ignorant about the topic, as they hit puberty. The musical is a rock adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, and won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. From the opening scene, Wendla Bergman—played by Starr Jasmine Leavitt—questions the lack of information her mother gave her. She’s the picture of angelic innocence with long golden locks, bare-feet and a white nightgown. The reprise of the first musical number “Mama Who Bore Me”—performed by Wendla (Leavitt) and the other girls—gave me chills. At that moment, I had full confidence that the next 90 minutes or so were going to be damn good.

The set was simple. Wooden stairs led up and down three tiers of the stage. Cloth patterned canvas patterned with tree branch outlines covered every inch of the sage. The live orchestra was partially concealed beneath the translucent backdrop. This ensured all the attention would be on the actors, and they truly seemed to give it their all.

Every cast member’s vocal and theatrical performance was impressive, but it was Eric Hagreen as Moritz Stiefel who stole the show. From those first terrified lines he blubbered, his portrayal of the goofy and chronically nervous Moritz was mesmerizing. For those 90 minutes, Hagreen fully inhabited Moritz. The tears on his face were real, it seemed, the angst naturally experienced. He kneeled a few feet in front of me, a Hamletian figure, put the gun in his mouth, and decided not to be.

Melodramatic Theatre Company’s production demonstrated notable attention to detail throughout the show. Each cast member’s movements throughout the play, no matter how small, had a purpose. The girls’ neon tights and boys’ neon shoelaces matching the color scheme on the musical’s advertisement posters. The boys’ varying hairstyles were also a nice touch. My personal favorites were Moritz’s (Hagreen) hi-top Afro and Georg’s—played by Jay Grollman—upward-turned curls on each side of his head.

Kristin Sad and Bryan VanCampen played all the adult women and men in the performance. Their roles ranged from teachers—who added some much needed comic relief from the serious themes in the play—to emotionally-drained parents trying to do what they think is best for their children.

As teachers, Sad and VanCampen were hilarious when they interrogated Melchior Gabor—played by Coleman Hemsath—in the lead-up to “Totally Fucked.” The musical number was like a party on stage I wished I could be part of. By the time the teachers joined the others in their dancing, shimmying, thrusting and jumping during the number, everyone in the audience was cheering and laughing.

Signs hung on the walls of the lobby and on the entrance door with the disclaimer: “Show contains: Partial nudity, profanity, mature content, fog machine.” Yes, all of that is true but for the most part those things add to the show. These included: when Hanschen Rilow—played by Evan Arbour—masturbates (rather believably) with the beat throughout “My Junk;” Georg fantasizes about his well-endowed piano teacher; and the sex scene between Wendla (Leavitt) and Melchior (Hemsath).

Mature content was not limited to sexual discovery; it also addressed child abuse, rape, homosexuality, abortion and suicide. Joanna Drivalas’ performance as Martha during “The Dark I Know Well,” addressing sexual abuse was haunting, especially for those sitting directly in front.

I was seated in the stairway isle, along with other people who’d been on the wait list, because it was so packed. At first I’d been disappointed by my seat, but it turned out to be one of the best—close enough to see the details of the actors faces. My advice: buy your tickets early and get there on time. There are 86 seats in the compact theater, and both shows on Friday (April 6) and Saturday (April 7) were sold out. The show’s director Amina Omari and her cast and crew have definitely created a show that should not be missed.