‘Spring Awakening’ at The Keegan Theatre by Julia L. Exline


The Keegan Theatre presents Spring Awakening, a rock musical based on Frank Wedekind’s 1892 German play of the same name, that boasts 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea direct this powerful, production which proves to be, at times, as humorous as it is haunting.

L to R: Gannon O'Brien, Emily Dey, Stephen Murray, Sarah Chapin, Alex Alferov, MaryKate Brouillet, and Sean Burns; Top: Charlotte Akin, and Jon Townson. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Mark A. Rhea’s clever set design shows an impressive trellis that sits along the back of the stage, under which a live orchestra sits and plays throughout the production. Branches and leaves weave their way around the structure and up the walls, which are covered with brick paper. A raised platform sits in the middle of the stage, and this is where the majority of the acting takes place. Lighting Designer Allan Sean Weeks uses soft orange and blue hues to light the stage for a melancholy effect, as well as spotlights and flashing lights for the more punchy numbers. Set in late 19th century Germany, the adolescents are dressed in school clothes, designed by Kelly Peacock and Shadia Hafiz. Appropriately dated, the girls wear modest dresses with long sleeves, collars, and subdued patterns, while the boys are in jackets and ties.

A group of peers are beginning to discover their sexuality – a confusing and frustrating journey in which their parents and other authority figures are no help. Wendla (passionately played by Ali Hoxie) begs her mother for some real information after being told that her sister had a visit from a “stork.” Frazzled, her mother (Charlotte Akin, who plays all of the adult women) tells Wendla that a child comes through marriage and love. Similarly discouraged is her fellow peer Moritz (a mesmerizing Paul Scanlan), an anxious and nervous boy whose best friend, Melchior (a great performance by Vincent Kempski) has attained some information through books, and is hesitant to share (“It almost made an atheist out of me”). Defying the suppressive adults, Melchior continues his quest for the truth, enlightening those around him while unknowingly becoming a catalyst for some extreme situations. Has Melchior set his peers free, or is he responsible for the moral corruption of his friends?

L to R: Nick Lehan, Sean Burns, Vincent Kempski, and Gannon O'Brien. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Spring Awakening has an excellent score with music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater (Mr. Sater also wrote the book), dashing from folksy to punk-rock styles within minutes. Music Director Jake Null and his group of musicians play the score beautifully and rock the hell out of itKurt Boehm’s choreography has a punky modernism about it, which gives the production a delightfully campy twist. A particularly good number is “The Bitch of Living,” in which the boys use chairs in their dancing, as well as impressive leaps and bounds. Paul Scanlan, who is outstanding as the angsty Moritz, rips across the stage in his solo song, “Don’t Do Sadness.” Alongside these punchy numbers are poignant ones, such as “Touch Me” and ‘The Dark I Know Well” a chilling duet sung by Sarah Chapin and Nora Palka. With all forms of expression otherwise discouraged, the teenager’s profound emotions are shown through song and dance.

While the performances of the leads are fantastic, it’s the hard-working and vocally strong ensemble that deserves equal recognition. Spring Awakening does have some some humorous moments, but it’s the ‘heavy’ and ‘deep’ themes  and raw emotion that sweeps the stage in thick torrents.

Top: MaryKate Brouillet, Sean Burns, Emily Dey Bottom: Ali Hoxie, and Vincent Kempski. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The Keegan Theater’s Spring Awakening is a winner! It rocks!

Running Time: two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Spring Awakening plays through July 8, 2012 at The Keegan Theatre at Church Street Theater – 1742 Church St, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (703) 892-0202, or order them online.

Note: Spring Awakening contains profanity, and is not recommended for young children.

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