Discovery in adolescence; a true coming of age story with the trials of love, sexuality, and death all hovering on the horizons of existence. A stunningly profound musical, winner of 8 Tony Awards, Towson University’s Department of Theatre is proud to present Spring Awakening as their spring musical. With music by Duncan Sheik and Books & Lyrics by Steven Sater this breathtaking rock musical awakens the senses as the young teenagers of its story become awakened to the realities of life. Directed by Joseph Ritsch with Musical Direction by Cedric Lyles, this sensational show is a riveting adventure into a world of dark themes and deep love with a Broadway quality in the performance that brings the audience to a standing ovation.
Set Designer Daniel Ettinger keeps with the traditional minimalistic design for the musical but adds a rather intense backdrop to juxtapose the era of the production into the reality of the performers. Using Charles Meynier’s painting Wisdom Protecting Youth from the Slavery of Love, the portrait, enlarged to cover the entire backdrop of the set, becomes a key focal point as it is displayed against a scrim and uses lighting elements to showcase performers in silhouette behind it during certain musical numbers. A stunning effect that blurs the lines of actuality and present reality; Ettinger’s design work speaks volumes to his understanding of the true struggles of the play’s motifs.
Director and Choreographer Joseph Ritsch brings together a phenomenal cast for this production. His ability to coax a professional Broadway quality sound from his performers is nothing less than incredible and his overall blocking of the production is set in such a manner as to truly draw the audience into the world of adolescent discovery.
Ritsch’s intensive choreography brings a vibrant life to the music, really allowing it to resonate through the bodies of the performers and directly out across the stage. During “The Bitch of Living” the boys are stomping about the stage pouring their emotional frustrations out through their feet; pounding the rhythm of the music straight into the floorboards with the intent to bring down the stage. The same can be said during “Totally Fucked” where Melchior leads the ensemble in an almost tantric dance of aggression as they use their bodies to demonstrate just how unfair life can be.
Musical Director Cedric Lyles contributes with perfect harmonies that are executed throughout the production. Largely during duets and trio numbers like “Those You’ve Known” where the audience is delighted to a pristine rendition of three-part harmony, Lyles’ work with the production is perfection.
Powerful does not begin to describe the raw talent of the ensemble that performs throughout this production. For group numbers like “Touch Me” and “I Believe” there is an electrifying current that courses through them; shocking every note into a forceful sound that showers the audience with wave after wave of compassionate and deeply felt emotions. Their flawless intonation and ability to hit pitch-perfect harmonies is a feat well worth praising, particularly for more difficult numbers like “The Song Of Purple Summer.”
While all the characters in the performance are richly developed, hats off are in order to Billy McHattie and Jenna K. Rossman who play the adult males and adult females roles. Taking on the tall order of every parent, teacher, and adult figure in the performance both Rossman and McHattie do an impeccable job of switching roles and changing their tones and attitudes throughout the production.
While all members of the ensemble are incredibly talented, there are three boys to keep your eyes on. Hanschen (Taylor Rieland) Ernst (Peyton Lynch) and Georg (James Ruth). These three gentlemen have pristine voices that exude deep emotions, particularly in more somber songs like “The World of Your Body Reprise” and “Touch Me.” Ruth and Rieland are a comic masterpiece during “The Bitch of Living” as they get up to their sexual shenanigans. Lynch plays an equally adorable character and has an adorably flirtatious and equally comic scene later in the show that he shares with Rieland. The trio adds a unique depth to the performance as a whole.
Rounding out for the women are Martha (Ines Nassara) and Ilse (Shannon Graham). The pair showcase stunning vocals in “The Dark I Know Well.” When they begin belting this duet together it sends a shocking shiver up your spine, the feeling of terrified disgust more than palpable in their song. Graham later shares a duet with Moritz, “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” where her voice couples in perfect harmony with his. But her overall triumph comes from leading a tear-jerking rendition to the opening of the closing number, “The Song of Purple Summer.”
With incredibly emotional depth and diversity in his character is Moritz (Montel Butler). Portrayed first as an incredibly nervous and naïve boy the richness and multitude of his character’s layers are slowly revealed as the show progresses. Butler’s voice is angelic but make no mistake, it is fully charged with heavy emotions. His initial performance of “Don’t Do Sadness” is delivered with pure blinded rage, surging up from a wounded place deep in his soul. He showcases a bitter anger blended heavily with frustration and confusion for “And Then There Were None” and his voice consistently carries these harsh and heavy emotions like a storm crashing onto the shore from the violent sea of his heart.
As a direct foil to Moritz, though equally as emotionally charged, is Melchior (Nick Fruit). With a slight rebellious streak in his character, Fruit adapts his performance of Melchior to be more compassionate and confused than anything else. His interactions with Wendla are both extreme and uncertain all wound up in the physical anguish of his body. The most stunning song he sings comes late in Act II after a pivotal plot point, “Left Behind” and the remorse that sweeps out from his inner being takes your breath away. The haunting and harrowing solo sound that he delivers for “Those You’ve Known” brings the audience to tears.
Fruit has a riveting compassion on stage with Wendla (Bridget Linsenmeyer). The fiery passion that the pair shares rings through in “The World of Your Body” and again in “The Guilty Ones.” Their physicality as well as their facial expressions bare the shame of their sins at the beginning of act II and that confused shame carries easily into fury and turmoil as the show goes on.
Linsenmeyer is a phenomena all her own. Tempering the delicate balance of naiveté with an unquenchable thirst to learn she becomes a dynamic character. “Mama Who Bore Me” is one of the most dramatic numbers she performs, starting as a delicate confusion that blossoms into a furious fire of desperation and wanting. Her dulcet sound for numbers like “The World of Your Body” and “The Guilty Ones” is not lost among the many powerful voices that often sing with her. A true acting talent, Linsenmeyer has a full range of emotions that she displays with conviction and understanding
So before the light of this purple summer passes you by, be sure to head to Towson University to see Spring Awakening.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Spring Awakening plays through May 11, 2013 at the Towson University Center for the Arts’ Main Stage Theatre — Olser Road in Towson, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 704-2792, or purchase them online.