“Spring Awakening” opened in Klein Theatre last week, shocking and delighting audiences.
Set in nineteenth century Germany, the musical is based off of an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind. Put to music by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, the show follows several young adults who muddle their way through the confusing transition between childhood and adulthood. This transition is awkward for everyone, but “Spring Awakening” focuses on the consequences of keeping children uninformed about their budding sexuality.
As the fall musical for the University of Mary Washington theatre department, the controversial play might be an odd choice. However, with a powerhouse cast and a strong accompanying orchestra, the musical may also be the most successful production Klein Theatre has seen in awhile.
The male cast members, led by Nick McGovern as Melchior Gabor, were by far the strongest part of the show. McGovern and Casey Martin Klein (Moritz Stiefel) were the stand out performances of the show, stunning audiences with vocals and acting that were beyond impressive for a college production.
The female cast members, led by Chelsea Raitor and Judi Jackson, were not as strong as their male counterparts. While Raitor portrayed the character of Wendla Bergmann well, her performance could not help but seem static next to McGovern’s dynamic acting.
Most of this is the fault of the writing; Raitor’s character serves very little purpose to the play other than to show the dangers of being naïve and uninformed. In stark contrast, McGovern’s character is intelligent and thoughtful.
While the subject matter is serious, the musical provides multiple laughs, and even more shocks. In a show focused on discovering sexuality, scenes of a sexual nature were expected. Yet “Spring Awakening” takes it to a new level. Starting with a scene where Raitor’s character runs her hands up and down her body in a mirror, the play rises in intensity, climaxing in an on-stage sex scene between McGovern and Raitor.
While the onstage masturbation scene (set to a group musical number) makes audiences laugh, the sex scene held audiences transfixed and wondering the same question: “was that her real breast?” In the most shocking moment of the show, Raitor and McGovern each exposed part of themselves onstage during the sex scene. Raitor’s breast was exposed for a moment, while McGovern pulled down his pants and effectively mooned the audience.
“It was all real,” said Ford Torney, who played Georg Zirschnitz.
The music fuels much of the energy of the play, standing in stark contrast to the events. While the characters speak and dress in accordance to the time period, the music is rock and roll-esque, sharply out of place for the era. When the cast broke into song, electric guitar, head banging and forceful dancing often accompanied it. Male cast members carried around miniature microphones in their coat pockets, which they would pull out during musical numbers.
In addition to setting the theme, the music provides levity at times. Musical number “Totally Fucked” offers such levity in the second half of the show as events grow darker. Fan favorite songs, such as “Mama Who Bore Me” foreshadow the events to come, while the ending song “Purple Summer” leaves audiences feeling slightly hopeful after the whirlwind of emotions that make up the second act.
“I thought it was really well done. The set was gorgeous and the cast did so well. They were so passionate and brought so much energy to their performances,” said sophomore psychology major Megan Cardwell.
With sex, intrigue and musical numbers galore, “Spring Awakening” is a must see for UMW students this semester.