Review: Spring Awakening at The 5th Avenue Theatre

Ricky Spaulding in Spring Awakening (Photo Credit: Rosemary Dai Ross.)

Ricky Spaulding in Spring Awakening (Photo Credit: Rosemary Dai Ross.)

Spring Awakening
5th Avenue Theatre
Through June 30, 2024 get tickets and more info here.

If you think children having sex is something of ‘modern times’, you are very much mistaken. Spring Awakening was originally written in Germany, 1891 and is a coming-of-age story about children (or teens more accurately) learning to understand puberty, sexuality, molestation, abortion, and suicide in a society that won’t begin to discuss such topics. Very little has been changed from its original script to the alternative-rock musical which swept Broadway in 2006. Currently playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, this show is definitely a game-changer, especially for older teens.

Spring Awakening takes place in Germany during the last decade of the 19th Century. It starts off with Wendla Bergman studying herself in the mirror, and wondering in awe about the changes her body has started to go through. She questions her mother’s inability to explain human conception, and has left her with “no way to handle things”. At the same time Melchior is questioning not only the changes in his own body, but also the pedantic teachings of the universe and religion. Each of the young adults are discovering their various bodies, desires, and finding their places in the strict world around them. A student named Moritz feels great family pressures to succeed, and is haunted by sexual awakenings and dreams. The pressures build until suicide becomes the considered option. As the different groups of friends discuss their explorations with one another, the subjects of sadomasochism, incest, masturbation, and sexual orientations and identities are presented, showing that sexual awakenings amongst teens is nothing new; unfortunately, neither are the deep damages of ignorance and lack of education on the subject. Wendla discovers she is pregnant without fully understanding the dynamics of how human reproduction occurs. Her mother was too embarrassed, and blinded to her daughter about becoming a woman, or to explain sexual details and mechanics. Wendla is taken to a back-alley doctor for an abortion, again without understanding what is happening to her body, or the repercussions from the actions her mother has forced her into doing.

The cast of Spring Awakening are all excellent. Most of the ensemble have a chance to shine in various solos during the many group songs. Lauren Drake, playing Ilse – who becomes an ‘outcast’ after she leaves her abusive household – allows her expressions and movements to show the unspoken details of her character. She is an ensemble member that demonstrates that little ‘extra’ to capture the eye, in the rock-a-billy reprise, “Mama Who Bore Me” or of the night’s resentment in “The Dark I Know Well”.

The two leads are Melchior, played by Ricky Spaulding, and Wendla, played by Caitlin Sarwono. Mr. Spaulding shows the touch of arrogance needed to lead his character on his journey of discovery. “Melchior” questions every regimented aspect of society by rebelling against them. He is the prize pupil that dares to investigate ideas for himself, instead of the blind acceptance of others. His voice is subtle and weaves around the lyrics in “All That’s Known”, or “Left Behind”.

Ms. Sarwono is perfectly cast in the role of Wendla. From the opening number of her self-exploration, “Mama Who Bore Me”, to the haunting lyrics of “Whispering”, her voice holds control over the beautiful words and melodies the show has to offer. Her character’s innocence and naivety about what is happening to her development, is brought out with great care and beauty. The audience follows her along the journey, and we completely feel her fear of not understanding, nor of being emotionally ready to comprehend her actions and any repercussions that may follow.

The cast of Spring Awakening at The 5th Avenue Theatre.(Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka)

The cast of Spring Awakening at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
(Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka)

Spring Awakening boasts a book (and lyrics) written by Steven Slater, with music composed by Duncan Sheik. The songs are haunting and full of expressive lyrics to demonstrate the various emotions being explored. The band, which is on stage in the background, were beautiful to hear except since it is a “rock musical”, parts of the music was played a little too loudly, and drowned out some of the songs’ lyrics as well as the beautiful vocals of the singers. The scenic designer, Matthew Smucker, deserves a shout out for his unique vision of a solid white wall, except for a break in the upper quarter that allowed a tree branch to extend through. The branch is barren with the hopes that spring will awaken new growth.

Spring Awakening was originally written by Frank Wedekind in 1891. Due to the subject matter of sex, homosexuality, rape, incest, abortion, etc… the play was frequently banned and/or censored. The musical Spring Awakening opened on Broadway December 10, 2006 and ran for over 850 performances. Giving such monumental break out roles to Jonathan Groff (Melchior), Lea Michele (Wendla) and Skylar Astin (Georg). Nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2007, the show won 8 including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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