“Spring Awakening,” which is currently running at Stagecrafters Baldwin Theatre, explores those first stirrings of sexuality that every creature in the animal kingdom encounters. Birds do it. Bees do it. But for naïve teenagers coming of age in the sexually oppressive culture of 19th century Germany, the subject is strictly verboten. The adult consensus is that teens should not be allowed to know what “it” is. They should not talk about “it,” think about “it,” nor acknowledge the hormones raging through their changing bodies and wreaking havoc with their emotional well-being. And to ensure obedience and complicity, the adults let it be known that only the worst kind of unnatural perverts have these feelings.
This is the situation first explored in Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, “Frühlings Erwachen” (Spring’s Awakening), which made its debut in 1906 and was quickly banned. The play resurfaced 100 years later as “Spring Awakening” – the pop/rock musical (with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik) that took Broadway by storm and captured eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical. This modern staging of “Spring Awakening” keeps the repressive German setting, the dour adults, the sad and confused boys and girls and the carking guilt. The students speak and act respectfully to their parents, their teachers, and the clergy. But what are they thinking? In one of the most brilliant uses of music in a stage show, “Spring Awakening” introduces the device of letting the contemporary songs express what’s going on inside the 19th century teenagers’ heads.
It is through these mostly inner dialogs that the simple story unfolds, intertwining the experiences of 11 students struggling to survive puberty. We meet innocent Wendla (Kryssy Becker) who begs her momma to tell her the truth about where babies come from only to be left further confused. And there’s Moritz (Nick Bringardner) who is so terrified by what he’s feeling and the nightmares that keep him from sleeping that he’s about to fail his classes. But for Melchior (Jeff Bobick) their intellectual, self-aware friend who has figured “it” all out by reading beyond the approved book list, the situation is more frustrating, because he’s being asked to conform to a world based on lies and hypocrisy.
Director Matthew Miga of Ferndale describes “Spring Awakening” as a type of bildungsroman –a story that focuses on a character’s spiritual journey and personal growth. “Unlike other typical bildungsroman,” says Miga, “This is a community coming-of-age story. This is not simply the journey of a single character, but of all eleven youth. Their stories are so intertwined that a line from the original German text referred to them as flowers growing in a garden. This truly is the tale of the planting, growth, pruning, death and flourishing of eleven beautiful seeds in one garden controlled by two gardeners.”
Although this Broadway show has toured all the major cities and big theatres, including Detroit’s Fisher Theatre, it scales remarkable well to the more intimate venue of the Baldwin Theatre’s 2nd Stage. And we are happy to report that the music for this Stagecrafters production – the soaring anthems, the delicate harmonies and the raw rock vocals – are delivered with aplomb. In fact, because director Matthew Miga uses the front and side aisles as performance space, the singers literally immerse the audience in the magical music that gives “Spring Awakening” its broad appeal. The subject matter is tough – rape, abuse, suicide, abortion – subjects as regrettably relevant as ever. But the music created by this inspired ensemble makes up for whatever heartache or discomfort we encounter on the journey. In the end, we are promised that “all shall know the wonder of purple summer” – the bloom that follows spring’s awakening.
In addition to those mentioned, the cast also includes Bridget Leary (Anna), Miles Bond (Ernst), Marcus Laban (Georg), Chase Lee (Hanschen), Christiana Perrault (Ilse), Daniela Ermak (Martha), Mike Vultaggio (Otto), and Deanna Willis (Thea), plus Rachel Biber and Dan Rose in all of the adult roles.
Debbie Tedrick handles music direction and is the conductor and keyboards for the terrific orchestra that also includes Stacy Bowen (Violin), Andrew Toering (Cello), Neal Wright (Guitar, strings), Greg Platter (Bass) and Matt Dudek (Drums). Choreography is by John Luther and Molly Zaleski.
Director Matthew Miga is supported by a large and capable production team that includes Carlol Windorf (Producer), David McIntosh (Set Design), Lucy Meyo (Light Design), Amy Wilson (Costume Design) and Clayton Bushmaker, Sound Design
This sad but celebratory Stagecrafters production of “Spring Awakening” runs through March 1st on the 2nd Stage at the Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette in downtown Royal Oak. Shows are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Note that due to the intimate nature of the play and the upstairs theatre itself, there will be no late seating. The show runs approximately two hours including one intermission and is rated M for its mature/sexual content and is most appropriate for audiences 17 years of age and older.
Advance tickets for performances are $18. Tickets may be purchased online or by phone at 248-541-6430. All seats are reserved. If shows have not sold out, tickets can be purchased at the box office one hour prior to the performance for an additional $2.00 per ticket. The Baldwin Theatre is located at 415 S. Lafayette, Royal Oak.