Coming Attractions

The kids are getting it on in Beck's sublime Spring Awakening

There's nothing in the world less interesting than somebody else's orgasm. And if you believe that, I have a mint-condition, fully automatic, self-stimulating Orgasmatron I can sell you for a song.

No, the truth is this: We all respond — for good or ill — to stories dealing with people-on-people sex. And our current era has no monopoly on this particular fixation, as is shown in Spring Awakening, now at the Beck Center in Lakewood.

This rock musical was adapted from a scandalous 19th-century German play of the same title by social critic Frank Wedekind. And thanks to a glorious collaboration between Beck and Baldwin-Wallace College's esteemed Music Theatre Program, the resulting production is a throbbing, pulsating jewel of theatrical passion.

Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) have kept all the story elements that caused an uproar back in the day, as they deal candidly with sex, abortion, rape, homosexuality, suicide, and some rudimentary S&M.

All of that is fully represented onstage, which accounts for the controversy that still follows this show, evidenced by the walkouts that inevitably occur. (And indeed, there were some on opening weekend.)

But thanks to director Victoria Bussert and choreographer Gregory Daniels (both B-W faculty members), the steamy nature of the content is smoothed by an energetic young cast and many staging flourishes demonstrating inventiveness and rough elegance.

Overhanging all the proceedings is, of course, puberty — that heaving, snorting biological beast that comes in the night to drag each of us into the sexual awareness of adulthood. The teenage boys and girls in this old-fashioned and repressive town are dealing with their "awakenings" in different ways.

Wendla (a strong-voiced Kyra Kennedy) asks her mother about the birds and the bees, gets a dodgy answer in return, and goes off seeking her own answers — as young people have always done.

A jumpy and painfully naive young man named Moritz is battling the same demons. But as interpreted by a tortured and pent-up James Penca, it's clear from the outset that Moritz is a more fragile person than many of those around him.

The school's stud strudel is Melchior, a radical ("He doesn't believe in anything!" the girls gush) who ends up sharing a patch of grass and some intimate slap-and-tickle with Wendla.

Zach Adkins wears Melchior's elevated status easily and expresses the eternal frustration of being an almost-adult in "The Mirror-Blue Night": "There's nowhere to hide from the ghosts in my mind/It's cold in these bones — of a man and a child," he lyrically reminds us.

Playing the supporting roles of all the adults, Scott Plate and Laura Perrotta have intense moments as they both inflict pain and feel the anguish of loss. Meanwhile, the chorus of ten boys and girls stomps, sways, and sizzles as they surround the raised stage platform — a favorite technique of director Bussert that is used here to perfection.

While some of the individual young voices are not fully developed or polished, these performers display a raw vulnerability that wasn't as well expressed in the touring Broadway production of this show a couple years ago.

The staging is generally magnificent, from the on-stage orchestra to subtle drawings of — well, you can probably guess — on large chalkboards suspended high above. Some set details, such as a trap door revealing a glass panel that provides up-lighting on the actors, probably sounded better in theory than it looks. But that's a minor quibble.

Ultimately, when one of the plot's tragedies strikes, the horror is transmitted by way of a silent puff of gunsmoke. It's a theatrical moment that is both surprising and devastating — and one that is symbolic of a production that is as polished and sure-footed as any in recent memory.

And that alone should be enough to give any theatergoer a chubby.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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