Teenage Angst at a Fever Pitch: SPRING AWAKENING at MST

by Ruth K. Brown
Ben Walker as Melchior and Caroline Colino as Wendla in Milburn Stone Theatre's SPRING AWAKENING.

Ben Walker as Melchior and Caroline Colino as Wendla in Milburn Stone Theatre’s SPRING AWAKENING.

The Milburn Stone Theatre (MST) at Cecil College in North East, MD, is BRAVE and is commended by this reviewer for being so.

The bravery comes from the fact that Director, S. Lee Lewis, along with a highly competent cast and excellent production team have brought SPRING AWAKENING to this area.   SPRING AWAKENING is based upon a play of the same name written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind.   This was Wedekind’s first major play and it carries the subtitle, A Children’s Tragedy.  Over the years, productions have been very few considering the age of Wedekind’s work.   To no small measure, this is due to the highly controversial subject matter.   Do not think that these themes were only controversial in the late 19th century.  Oh no. These themes are universal and are as problematical today as when Wedekind put them on stage.  Puberty, sexuality, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide and abortion is a list of themes not seen together in many theatrical productions.   The question, “How does one add music to these themes?” also seems obvious.   The music is loaded with profanity and teenage points of view while also showing the oppressive culture of the 19th century.  Lewis and his entire production team have brought to the MST stage a production of angst, depth, emotions, and childlike wonder.  This team has taken the book/lyrics by Steven Sater and the music by Duncan Sheik and have assembled a tremendously troubling, moving, and yet sparkling production.

As usual at MST, and especially for Lewis, much thought was spent on setting the production in a supportive space.  As the curtains are open when the audience enters, there is a visual assault with a multi-level, dissolving brick wall of mirrors, photos, ladders, and ramps.  As the production proceeds, each area exudes force and emphasis to support the raw emotional power of each performer and the exceptional choreography and movement created by Bambi Johnson.  Pounding rhythms are matched with stomping feet and dramatic gestures to increase the musical and thematic edge.   The mirrors on the lower level reflect the audience giving a sense of inclusion in the stage action …at times a terrifying place to be.  Lewis’s set structure also allowed the scenes to flow seamlessly maintaining accumulated tension building over multiple scenes.   The music roars from the opening number and keeps the pressure on the audience until the very last note.  Music direction by Marji Eldreth kept the pace and the passionate content of each song.   It is worth noting that even with the usual sound mixing problems that continue to plague MST, the sheer force of the performances and the choreographed movement insured the audience lost nothing.

Shane Lowry as Moritz in SPRING AWAKENING at Milburn Stone Theatre.

Shane Lowry as Moritz in SPRING AWAKENING at Milburn Stone Theatre.

How can a character be isolated for kudos from an ensemble comprised of actors each bringing their character to life with clearly defined emotional levels and high energy physicality?  Wendla Berman is played with vulnerability and childlike innocence by Caroline Colino.  Melchior Gabor, a boy entering puberty with enthusiasm, fear and pounding hormones, is beautifully portrayed by Ben Walker. Shane Lowery is captivating as the angst-ridden and confused Moritz Stiefel.   The SPRING AWAKENING curtain call is done as a full ensemble.  BRAVO!   This ensemble is so tightly wound together that it is like a jigsaw puzzle.  With even one piece missing, the puzzle is incomplete and falls apart.  SPRING AWAKENING is fully presented with every puzzle piece working to make an unforgettable whole.

Please take the time and treat yourself to a marvelous evening of theatre.  It is scary and sad and also triumphant and passionate.  SPRING AWAKENING is not to be missed.

Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
April 12 – 21, 2013
The Milburn Stone Theatre
Cecil College
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD  21901



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