Friday evening was the opening of Barley Sheaf Players’ SPRING AWAKENING a rock musical directed by Rose-Marie Abi–Richa and musical director Janine Herd. This 2007 Broadway smash hit is new to the community theatre scene, a bold move for Barley Sheaf to be the first in the area to introduce it locally. It is the recipient of 8 Tony Awards including Best Book and Best Musical Score. Based on the 1892 controversial play by Frank Wedekind, the setting is a strict high school in a provincial German town, and tells the story of youths coming of age in a society of traditional values and morals, and the inevitable teenage angst that encompasses them. I won’t lie to you; this is a difficult show to watch. Scenes containing simulated sex, homosexuality, masturbation on stage, child molestation, abortion, sadism and masochism, teen suicide and harsh language, this show is not for the faint of heart, or anyone who enjoys traditional musicals. The play was so controversial in its day; production delayed seven years after it was written because of the adult themes.
However, this show touches our youth, and there is something to be said for that. I sat next to a young man in the audience who sang the lyrics along with the performers on stage with adoration in his eyes. This story was written 120 years ago, and yet the teens in the audience gave it thunderous applause and passionate support because they could relate to the same troubles of the German youths onstage from another era.
The music is difficult, with hard rock riffs that require very strong singers. Most of the cast are musical theater students or very recent grads, so it was apparent there was difficulty with some of the music, but their hard work and determination to tell the story was truly evident. They were all 100% committed onstage, and that speaks volumes to an audience.
Kristen Malora as the lead Wendla gave a tender performance along with her leading man Ben Chadwell. Nick Glassmyer’s (George) flips onstage were impressive. Doug Schultz as the troubled Moritz was a stand-out, his physicality on stage as a desperate youth was intense and convincing.
An interesting note about the original production, the show took seven years of workshops and rewrites, premiering off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company in May 2006 and quickly catapulting to Broadway’s Eugene O’Neil Theater in December of the same year. The original producers include actor Tom Hulce, (Amadeus, Animal House, and Parenthood) and Tamara Tunie, a regular on Law and Order, SVU. Its original cast includes Lea Michele as Wendla, best known for the hit show Glee. Packed with heavy hitters both onstage and off, SPRING AWAKENING delivers a punch, right to the gut. The show has been compared by critics to the 1996 smash RENT, and I’d agree it had the same youthful, raw feel, however the music was significantly of a lesser caliber, unfortunately for the performers up there giving it their all. But I enjoyed the flashbacks to my own youth: punk hair cuts, new wave/mosh pit dancing, and melodies reminiscent of the Sex Pistols. The story was a reminder of all the pain and anxieties of adolescence, and I was moved to see from the reaction of the young audience I sat with, that the current generation is no exception.
Kudos to the cast and directors, for taking on such a challenge, and giving community theatre audiences something to think about.
Directed by Rose-Marie Abi–Richa
Sept 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, 2012
The Barley Sheaf Players
810 N Whitford Rd
Lionville, PA 19353
Note: explicit and adult content