SPRING AWAKENING At Steel River is for Mature Audiences

by Walter Bender

I attended the preview performance of SPRING AWAKENING at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown. While I had read a lot about the show, I was unprepared for what I saw take place. Before you go, make sure you are aware of the subject matter and how it’s handled.

SPRING AWAKENING is a rock musical set in the late 18th century (makes for a little confusion there, eh?) based on the controversial play of the same name which was banned for some time in its native Germany for the frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse, and suicide. The subject matter is handled with the infusion of music and dance to help offset the bluntness of the material.

The production centers around several story lines…one involving the naïve Wendla (Maddie Aicher) and Melchior (Matt DeGeitano) who find their way to each other and have sex (or is it rape?) one night in a hayloft. A second story is about Moritz, a student who is suffering from dreams that he thinks are an indication of insanity, until Melchior assures him that all adolescent males have similar dreams. A third story is of Hanschen and Ernst, who classmates who discover their own sexuality. There is so much more to these stories…I can’t do it justice in this short of a review.

The cast of the show was very good. All the voices were strong and energetic, with very few problems with the material. Kudos to Director Dr. Beverly Redman and Music Director Deborah Stimson-Snow for assembling and rehearsing such a fine cast. The set is minimal and functional…a bare stage with chairs carried in by the cast members for their scenes as necessary. Lighting was also functional…I suspect there were problems with the electronics, as several scenes were not as well lit as they should have been. Scene changes were crisp and effective.

I had a couple issues with this production, one of which is the material itself and the direction thereof. The cast is predominantly high school and early college students, so they were roughly age-correct for the material. The paradox is that the material requires a subtlety that the younger actor cannot always carry off. Each of the cast members did very well, but there was a lack of polish that I can only attribute to an inability to truly connect to the material. I was troubled as an audience member by a couple of the scenes where the sexuality was more graphically depicted…there is no nudity, but there are scenes where there can be no question as to what the “students” are doing. I felt uncomfortable, not because of the material, but because of my awareness of the age of the actors…and I suspect there were some grandparents in the audience that shared my discomfort.

That being said, this is a tight production. The music is driving, and quite good. The actors do well in their respective roles. It’s just a bit too voyeuristic for my taste.

Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater, Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play, “Spring Awakening” by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Dr. Beverly Redman
Music Director – Deborah Stimson-Snow
Orchestra Director – Barbara Newberry
September 26 – October 13, 2013
Steel River Playhouse
245 East High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464



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Bev Redman October 3, 2013 - 6:09 am

I just became more impressed with my cast after reading this review. Mr. Bender is obviously moved and disturbed by what he witnessed, cannot process it and must fall back on repressive moralizing, ironically the very thing that the play itself condemns but which he is too inept to realize. I love it. It’s rich.

For the record, the cast is quite comfortable with what they are doing. They have researched the show with me and the entire team, and they knew what they were getting into from the very beginning and all along the way. I wish Mr. Bender had also done his homework before coming to the show and writing this review. Teen sex drive and adult invention to control it is what the show is about, so, why do the show at all if you are going to side step portraying the material. Wedekind’s play remains powerful more than a century later in this musical rendition because so-called advanced societies have yet to solve the issue of how to manage our drives in a way that is balanced and healthy, that celebrates our identities as acculturated animals, a reality we are terrified to admit. At the very least, Mr. Bender might have read my director’s notes and commented on the play’s content. Shouldn’t reviewers have some literary and theatre history knowledge?

All along the way, the young adult (mostly late teens and 20s but a few 14 and 15 year olds) cast has been invited to express concerns and ask for revisions of staging, as this was a very collaborative effort. Their parents were made aware of the material, invited to early rehearsals and signed release forms. We’ve been very careful with this process. I wish Mr. Bender had had the capacity to be careful with his review. Perhaps he should think twice before anything beyond the complexity of The Music Man.

Laura October 7, 2013 - 3:52 pm

Some directors get so caught up in their delusional artistic visions. Let’s be clear what this show is. It’s child pornography. Period. That’s wonderful that this group had the cast sign release forms, but I believe there are laws in this country overriding what some may call “consent.” This director may feel she’s above these “invented” societal laws, but Mr. Bender was actually quite kind in his review of Steel River’s X-rated exploitation of minors. This director belongs in jail.

John October 7, 2013 - 6:37 pm

Having been to this show twice, I was able to see that this performance takes place in the late 19th century, not as Mr. Bender mistakenly writes, in the late 18th. It is difficult to get that straight sometimes. That said, my real beef with this review seems to be that the performance was the last thing reviewed (if at all). I think it speaks volumes about Mr. Bender’s unease that he attended a Lutheran university (are those big boy accredited?)
In short, the show was fantastic, the actors tremendously talented, and the direction wonderful. To make that much with no set let me imagine the whole play and brought me back to being young and carefree…Perhaps Mr. Bender forgets what it was like, perhaps it made him feel something (in his tight panties) that he’d been taught to repress. Most unfortunately, he was obviously unable to imagine the oak tree where Melchior and Wendla sat together. This lack of imagination must translate into an inability to appreciate a show for show’s sake. Or any for of art.
In conclusion, it is the job-neigh – duty of the reviewer to give a fair review. You have failed in this respect. My review of your review is that you prefer a cookie cutter play. This was not Annie. You couldn’t handle that.


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