*** TRIGGER WARNING: This post covers a series of sensitive topics- please read at your own risk/discretion. ***
“Oh, I’m gonna be wounded…” I mentally sing/think to myself as I await the beginning of Comtra Theatre’s revamped rendition of Spring Awakening– an angsty, folk-infused/alternative rock musical that follows several different teenagers in a conservative 19th-century Germany as they discover the various ecstasies and tumults that inevitably come with sexual exploration/experimentation (both with themselves and their peers), as well as the often painful consequences of their naive, curious, and typically well-intended actions. Panic at the Disco’s haunting “Dying in LA” ballad from the carefully determined “pre-show playlist” is echoing throughout the theater, already setting the tone for what’s to come. It’s in this moment that I realize my tear ducts are *ahem* “totally F*CKED.” 😭
Based on the controversial play by Frank Wedekind (with music by Duncan Sheik and book/lyrics by Steven Sater), Spring Awakening fearlessly tackles the very raw, real adolescent experiences that most-if not all- teens are forced to face as they grow up; from the budding passion of “first loves,” to that immediate sense of impending despair about your purpose in life, to the curiosity with different genders and sexual orientations, to the overwhelming sense of guilt, shame, and pressure imposed by (ironically oblivious) adults to always be perfect, proper, and pure, this show covers it all- truthfully, passionately, and unapologetically.
Growing up in a dual Roman/Byzantine Catholic household, the religious concepts and “holy” ideals of innocence, obedience, and purity were imposed on me since before I was even conceived. And while I didn’t get to see Spring Awakening until I was a Sophomore in college, I felt a strong, visceral connection to several of the characters as if I was still that curious 14 year old girl with a whole world full of questions and curiosities- and not a single source of education or information to guide me without simultaneously being accompanied by a steaming hot helping of “Irish-Catholic guilt.” Wendla’s naivete and innocent curiosity, Moritz’s desperate struggle to be “good enough,” and Melchior’s atheistic-yet-intuitive philosophies about the universe were all character traits/themes that I identified with immediately. The show, in a word, is LIBERATING, and the cast/crew at the Comtra Theatre captured that powerful sense of liberation with such a poignant and sharp intensity, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.
Under the meticulous direction of Cody Larko, the entire cast and crew have created a beautiful and unforgettable piece of art- one that is especially necessary in these “Handmaid’s Tale-esque”/increasingly repressing times. The stage was intricately decorated with various trees and flowers (truly emphasizing the “SPRING” in Spring Awakening)- enough to set the scene, without being overwhelming or distracting from the performance.🥀
The costumes, of course, were my favorite: the girls were in the iconic “school girl” knee socks and flowing dresses, while the boys were in different variations of their prep school uniform- specifically tailored to their characters’ unique personalities (*Moritz’s disheveled blazer, loose-fitted pants, and unhinged suspenders will always be my favorite. That poor guy just needs a long nap and a solid hug. #DontWeAll 😭🙃😅). ** I think it’s important to note that Mr. Larko was also responsible for the production/costume design of the show, because he’s a superhero. ** 🙌🏻🤓
Other aspects that I really enjoyed were the choreography- both in terms of the dancing as well as the overall staging of the show- along with the lighting design (*both created by Zakk Mannella because he is also a superhero…I’m noticing a theme here..🤔). The routines mimicked movements of repression and release, along with moments of awkward curiosity, sexual frustration, and passionate yearning. The table routine during “The Bitch of Living” is particularly strategic and clever (any kind of table dancing is risky, so major props to the boys of the cast for pulling off such a cool routine!!). I also LOVED the lighting during “The Word of Your Body”– the way it shaped itself around Wendla and Melchior’s sensually tense movements as they discovered their deep desire for one another really captured the intimate intensity of the moment.
The scene that stood out to me the most, however, was during my favorite song of the whole musical, “The Dark I Know Well” (which was powerfully lead by actress Sabina May, who portrays Martha.) It’s a good thing there’s a trigger warning before the show, as this sequence involves the violent and disturbing portrayal of sexual abuse between a father and his young daughter (*shout out to Marnie Butler and Tommy O’Brien, the talented actors who were the focal points of this sequence, and who also portray Thea and Georg, respectively)– that scene felt so real and terrifying, I really appreciate the time and thought that was put into choreographing such an intense and horrific circumstance.
Additionally, I thought the staging and use of multipurpose props was efficient and clever, which added a fast pace to the show, preventing it from dragging on while also complementing the weight of the more emotionally dense moments.
The band, while small, is exuberant and a force of its own volition (thanks to the tireless efforts of music director Daniel McTiernan, sound designer/tech director Deborah Heyl, and sound operators Brandon Keller and Maddie Leschak, as well as the talented musicians themselves). You feel exactly what you hear, which is one of the best parts of going to live shows!🤘🏻🎶😈
The energy is impossible to ignore- whether it’s romantic tension, devastation from failure, or frustration with being misunderstood, this talented group of actors makes you feel EVERYTHING.😭🙌🏻❤️
Victoria Buchtan (who portrays Wendla, as well as being the Stage Manager AND Dance Captain because she’s a real-life Wonder Woman) gave such a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Whispering,” that it’s still lingering in my mind even as I’m writing this– Lea Michele would be SO PROUD!! 100% an undeniable Broadway Goddess QUEEN!!👑🌹🖤
Ian C. Olson‘s portrayal of Melchior is everything you could hope for in a brilliant, broody, rebellious, rockstar hero for change and liberation. He commands the stage with an electric presence that forces you to LISTEN and truly think about the impact you have in people’s lives, and inspires you to live truthfully- especially for those who can’t anymore.🤘🏻🖤
Ryan Wagner perfectly encapsulates Moritz’s desperation to please his parents and peers, as well as his ultimately fatal devastation in believing that he could never live up to the impossible expectations of perfection being forced upon him. So phenomenally heartbreaking, I still get chills whenever I think about it.💔
Madeline Struhar‘s stirring and powerful interpretation of Ilse provides a much-needed sense of hope in all the darkness and disparity that the show encompasses. She leads the finale, “The Song of Purple Summer,” with a refreshing sense of grace, and as the rest of the cast comes in to join her, you will leave with an awakened sense of self and those around you, ready to make the world a more loving, accepting place.💐🙌🏻
Connor McNelis‘ “The Word of Your Body (Reprise)” that he shares with Palmer Masciola IV is both sensual and sincere- it’s a truly beautiful moment in the show, and these gentlemen delivered it wonderfully as their characters Hanschen and Ernst, respectively.🖤🖤
Marian Puet and Jeremy McCawley (who portray Anna and Otto) keep the energy alive and well within the ensemble throughout the show as they dance and sing their hearts out in several numbers; it can be tough to feel/express so many different extreme emotions within short spans of time, but they do it with such incredible accuracy and depth, they make it look easy. Rockstars all around!! 🙌🏻🔥🤘🏻
Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre and Brady D. Patsy successfully take on the challenge of portraying ALL of the adult characters in the show- their vocal inflections and specific physicality for each character were spot on, so you always know who exactly is being depicted on stage- it was amazing to see how they could transform themselves into completely different people without altering too much of their costume/appearance!🙈
Though the subject matter can be difficult to see and/or perform, I think Spring Awakening serves as a crucial, iconic staple in theatre history, and it tells stories that NEED to be told- both for the sake of children sifting through the confusion of growing up, as well as the adults meant to guide and support them through their journeys without judgement.
The exceptionally talented cast and crew of the Comtra Theatre (or, the “ComtrAvengers,” as I am now calling them because they can literally do anything and everything🤷🏻♀️😅) tell this story with so much genuine love and truth. They will make you laugh, they will make you cry, they might even make you feel a little hot & bothered (I mean, it IS a “sexy” show, it’s almost weird if you don’t feel some type of way hahaha😂🙈…), but most importantly, they will make you THINK. If you have the pleasure of seeing it, I hope you leave the theater feeling a little less alone, and a little more inspired.❤️
The final verdict? Whether you’re a turbulent teen hoping to take comfort in characters you can relate to, or an adult trying to relive the “glory days” of your teen angst and/or are looking for a way to help open up a dialogue with your own teens about all the super fun (& not-so-fun) changes coming their way, I HIGHLY recommend seeing this musical. It is meant for MATURE audiences only and contains tons of sensitive & potentially triggering subject matter, so use wise judgement. If you get to see it, you will not regret it, and- dare I say- you will be a better person (and probably a better parent) for it. I firmly believe that the world would be a much better place with more communication, love, and acceptance. What better way to do that than with a great piece of art? 🥀🖤
On that note, don’t get left behind! Spring Awakening runs at the Comtra Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings, now through August 17th!
You can purchase your tickets here.
*MY JUNK: How To Dress Like An Angsty Teen-Queen:
- Red “Sarcasm” tee by Blackcraft Cult- Hot Topic
- Black Faux Leather Jacket- Target
- Black Lacy Ballerina Skirt- Hot Topic
- Lace/Faux Leather Bralette- Adore Me
- Black Ribbon Choker- Target
- Heart/Cross/Pearl Tri-Ring- Forever 21
- Red Heart/Cross Earrings- Hot Topic
- Floral Knee Sock Tights- Hot Topic
- Red Knit Knee Socks- Amazon
- Faux Leather/Lace Heart Fingerless Gloves- Amazon
- Black Combat Boots- Timberland
Whether it’s through fashion, theatre, music, or whatever lights your fire, I hope you all live as bravely, curiously, and passionately as the characters from Spring Awakening. Regardless of your age, gender, race, religion, or orientation, I think we can all learn something from them.
Keep calm & REBEL ON. 🤘🏻💋🔥🖕🏻🥀🖤