GSC’s ‘Spring Awakening’ will haunt you

 

The company in a scene from the Gloucester Stage Company's production of "Spring Awakening." Photo: Gary Ng

The company in a scene from the Gloucester Stage Company’s production of “Spring Awakening.” Photo: Gary Ng

GLOUCESTER — In 1891, German playwright Frank Wedekind made a plaintive cry for help against what he considered a repressive German regime.
For the better part of a century, that cry fell mostly on deaf ears and his play, “Spring Awakening,” was rarely performed, because of its graphic portrayal of the sexual awakening of several young people during a time of repression.
In 2007, “Spring Awakening” came alive with a vengeance, with a musical production of the Wedekind play by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik winning eight Tony Awards.
The play has also been rediscovered locally. The national tour of the musical came through Boston a few years ago, and it also has been performed by the Boston Children’s Theatre, while the original Wedekind play was given a superb production by Zeitgeist Stage Company in 2009.
Now The Gloucester Stage Company is kicking off its 2013 season with a very strong production of the musical, now being performed through July 14 in the Gorton Theatre.
Gloucester Stage Artistic Director Eric Engel directs with his usual precision and skill and the music direction is by recent IRNE Award-winner Catherine Stornetta, whose musicians lovingly replicate the haunting score by Sater and Sheik.
Befitting a play written more than a century ago, the naievete and lack of sexual understanding of the teens will seem quaint by today’s standards. But Sater and Sheik have turned that into a plus at times with Melody Madarasz as Wendla, for example, singing a plaintive plea to her mother for help in understanding her sexuality in an early highlight, “Mama Who Bore Me.”
Phil Tayler — who has done fine work for virtually every major professional company in the Greater Boston area over the last couple of years — is Melchior, brought up in the light by progressive parents who urge him to explore his world and help inform those left in the dark — but at the risk of dooming his own future.
He comforts his friend Moritz (Boston Conservatory student Ross Mumford, making his professional debut in the performance of the production), a nervous, intense young man who has been having disturbing erotic dreams, and believes he is losing his mind.  He finds comfort in the information provided by Melchior.
Mumford as Moritz gives a harrowing performance as an outsider shunned by young and old alike, with the exception of Melchior, Melchior’s mother and Ilse (Sarah Oakes Muirhead), his childhood friend who ran away from an abusive home. The scenes in the second act where he misses his last, best chance to come in from the cold are stunning. (“Don’t Do Sadness.”)
This “Spring Awakening” also benefits greatly from having two of the finest actors in the area — Amelia Bloome and Paul Farwell — playing a huge variety of adult characters, some of whom are caring and concerned to others who are ignorant and abusive.
They are able to switch on a moment’s notice from one to the other, and are believable whomever they are portraying. I especially loved their overbearing German accents as two haughty, misguided educators who decide to fail Moritz even though he has passed his midterms, sending him on a downward spiral.
This is not a children’s show despite its theme of teenage angst. At some point, it deals with teen pregnancy, rape, masturbation, same-sex relationships, abortion, and because of those themes is recommended for adults and mature teens.
With such musical numbers as the Act One finale “I Believe” and the heart-rending “Those You’ve Known,” “Spring Awakening” will haunt you long after you’ve seen it.
It is a cautionary tale for all, but especially for those teens and parents who may recognize in those characters on the stage something real in their own lives.
The Gloucester Stage Company’s production of “Spring Awakening.” Book and lyrics by Steven Sater. Music by Duncan Sheik. Based on the play by Frank Wedekind. At the Gorton Theatre, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, through July 14. http://www.gloucesterstage.org.

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