UCR’s Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production has brought another exciting musical to the campus in “Spring Awakening.” Debuting on Thursday, November 12 at 8 p.m., the University Theatre doors opened to a near-full house. A few minutes past 8, the lights dimmed and the show began.
“Spring Awakening” is based off of the 1891 German play of the same name. The musical originally debuted on Broadway in 2006 and has won multiple Tony awards on Broadway alone, including Tonys for “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score.”
The musical follows the lives of several German adolescents in late 19th century Germany. The story opens up with Wendla Bergmann (Hana Bookman) and her yearnings to learn how sexual reproduction works and where babies come from. She asks her mother these questions, who doesn’t give her a straightforward and correct answer other than “a woman must love her husband with all of her heart.” Like Wendla, Moritz (Khalif Gillett), another German youth, also begins experiencing the need to know about sex and sexuality. For him, however, it’s less of a comedic naivety and much more of a point of unhealthy obsession. To add on top of his tortured thoughts and dreams, he’s also struggling in school, and is threatened with expulsion if he cannot get good grades.
Fortunately, Moritz’s best friend Melchior (Nicholas Sloan) is educated on all matters relating to sex, and this relationship makes up half of the musical’s heart. The other half comes from Wendla’s interactions with her friends Martha (Grace McLaughlin), Thea (Kristen Asada) and Anna (Haley Gaskin). The interactions between the individuals in each group of friends are perfect foils for each other that highlight how the story symbolically functions. Melchior is the most sexually knowledgeable out of all the children, yet he fails in his attempt to help Moritz with his mental and emotional anguish; meanwhile, Martha opens up to her friends about being physically and sexually abused by her father, but Wendla, overly-nurtured by her mother, is slow to to understand the direness of the situation. The title perfectly labels the broad, different levels of “awakenings” throughout several of the characters, be it from Wendla’s mind yearning for more knowledge, Moritz’s actual sexual awakening through his erotic dreams or Melchior’s angst-ridden disgust with the phoniness of adult life.
Several of the scenes contain over-the-top imagery and choreography, which were pulled off to great effect. Some of the comedic moves shown off included a number where the Moritz, Melchior and the rest of their male classmates Ernst (Ray Zaragoza), Hanschen (Justin Roe), Otto (Nicholas Molencu) and Georg (Scott Shima) defiantly jump up and around their school desks and sing about their sexual frustrations in a number titled “The Bitch of Living.” Stage manager Tony Baltierra expressed great joy in the amount of work put into their sets. “We’ve all been working on the choreography and musical numbers for the past four weeks,” Baltierra said. “It could be really tough and demanding, but everybody’s been working hard to make this great.”
The music and the acting are what truly pull this musical together. The campus theater’s stage made room for a small band to play on, and it truly energized the performance. Alternative rock is utilized to great effect here, and embeds the 19th century story with a dose of modernity that was just right.
The tear-inducing moments came pouring out in act two of the show, when the audience learns that a few of the major characters pass away. Following the discovery of their deaths in a graveyard, Melchior comes close to committing suicide until he is visited by their spirits, who persuade him to journey on and carry the memories of his friends forever in a number called “Those You’ve Known.” It’s difficult to not shed tears when you witness the pain in Sloan’s voice as Melchior’s emotions come full circle, and he realizes that he still has a personal cause to fight for in being a part of a better future for his generation.
“Spring Awakening” is a massive success and is testament toward UCR’s excellent choice in theater productions. High-profile music and acting, outrageous sexual banter and important themes concerning sexual awakening and growing up — the show has close to everything anybody could need.
Corrections: In our preview of Spring Awakening, we said that Khalif Gillett was playing Georg Zirchnitz when he is actually playing Moritz Stiefel. We also misspelled Anna’s friend Martha’s name as Marth, and in the last paragraph, the director’s last name Matt Neves was accidentally spelled as Reves. We deeply regret the errors and sincerely apologize for them.