Eastern Michigan University’s Theatre Department opened “Spring Awakening”, March 31. The thought-provoking rock musical features mature themes such as abortion, rape, and suicide, so the show had a diverse affect on audience that ranged from college students to grandparents.
Kelly Fielder, a EMU alumna, said, “I was looking around to gauge people’s reactions, thinking some would be frightfully astonished, and everyone seemed so respectful and right there with the actors. It was such an astounding thing to see, and it really made it seem like not only a well-done performance, but an important one.”
It’s true. One of the things that the musical does is portray beauty and light right alongside the harshness and darkness. This production expertly highlighted the characters choosing love, courage, life, and light, even amid their dark and painful circumstances.
Portraying these characters’ wide range of emotions is no small task, but the cast rose to the occasion brilliantly. As naïve, sweet Wendla, rebellious, headstrong Melchior and troubled, desperate Moritz, Lindsey Scheidler, Brendan Kelly and Nick Whittaker all strikingly displayed the very different ways that hunger for knowledge and for sense of self can eat at someone, or can help them survive.
There were standouts even amidst the rest of the very strong ensemble cast: Jonah Phelps and Shengwei Wang as worldly Hanschen and shy Ernst, Sera Shearer as a broken but resilient Martha, and Loren Hubbs as Ilse, who has in some ways freed herself from the constraints of authority, and in some ways, will never be free.
Kelsey Booth and Carmel Rechnitzer, tasked with playing all of the different adult characters, skillfully imbued each of them with individuality while creating a through-line of struggling authority. Gabe Gonzalez, Ethan Danke, Ellie Curtis, and Liana Abela rounded out the rest of the ensemble with spirit and grace.
Choreographer Jennifer Graham and Associate Choreographer Tyler Calhoun created movement that beautifully amplified the circumstances and feelings of each song, and made the transitions between song and scene seamless and effortless. Lighting designer John Charles created many varying effects with great success, one of the most captivating being the rock concert-esque strobe lights featured during one of the show’s saddest and most powerful moments.
Jeromy Hopgood’s spectacular set, grand in scope but minimal enough not to seem specifically anywhere, was malleable in nature. Looking throughout the show almost like the inside of a barn, the set transformed into a schoolroom, then a dark alleyway, then a graveyard, with the movement of just a few props and set pieces.
Helping to create the hypnotic and visually stunning atmosphere of the musical were Hopgood’s projections on the slatted walls at the back of the set. Sometimes words appeared, sometimes faces of the characters, all beautifully rendered in an artistically mixed sepia.
Melanie Schuessler Bond’s costumes were muted and mild, but conveyed the constraints of the characters’ circumstances perfectly.
The musical’s powerful, poignant and emotionally charged music was played with passion, skill and sensitivity by the 7-piece pit orchestra led brilliantly by musical director and sound designer R. MacKenzie Lewis.
Director Pirooz Aghssa and assistant directors Riley Sironen and Havah Roussel infused the musical with a vibrancy and spirit, creating theatre that simultaneously flowed seamlessly while generating strikingly memorable moments.
The audience gave the show a standing ovation at the end of the Sunday April 2nd matinee, proving that the musical had touched, rather than shocked or puzzled them. This understanding and acceptance of the subject matter by all ages is also remarkable considering that one of the show’s overarching themes is the inability of the younger generation and the older generation to communicate successfully, and the problems that it causes.
Loren Hubbs, who played Ilse, said, “This show represents discovering individuality and sexuality. It means breaking out of norms and expectations of society to find yourself.”
“Spring Awakening” runs April 6-8 at 7 PM, and April 9 at 2 PM in Quirk Theatre. Tickets and more information can be found at emutix.com. Recommended for mature audiences.