It wasn’t difficult to locate Little Butterfly Theatre Company’s production of Spring Awakening. All I had to do was follow the overpowering scent of teenage hormones coming from the theatre.
Since its Broadway debut in 2006, Spring Awakening has brought to raucous life the pubic angst and sexual frustrations of adolescence. And because it employed a mostly teenage cast, Little Butterfly’s production was even more authentic in its portrayal of young love, the likes of which struggles under the stifling confines of a prudish society. Little Butterfly chose to mount, as its inaugural production, the “Concert Version” of Spring Awakening (Music by Duncan Sheik, Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater). This means that the show was in more of a cabaret style, with almost no set and no backstage. The music was the true star of the show, then, and Little Butterfly succeeded marvelously in bringing Sheik’s triumphant alternative rock score to life. The result was an exhilarating performance that brought the audience to its feet.
The space used for Spring Awakening, the Old Firehouse Teen Center in downtown McLean, is not ideal for theatre. During the day, light seeps in from the windows, and it is difficult to set up a proper light plot in what is essentially a massive room with only a rudimentary grid. Three huge metal columns and a densely packed audience also made for some difficult sightlines. But Director Amy Poe adapted well to the challenging space, utilizing a vast, sprawling L-shaped stage that offered maximum visibility. The whole cast, plus the orchestra, were seated on the stage for the duration of the show, and when an individual actor’s scene was up, he or she simply stood up and walked center stage. This created a real feeling of ensemble on stage, especially because many actors played multiple roles. Likewise, Lighting Designer Emily Robinson did the best she could with an uncooperative grid, and the result was a light design that was quite dramatic and effective.
To be sure, with a young cast the vocals were uneven at times. However, whatever it lacked in polish, Spring Awakening made up for in raw energy. Jamie Goodson, as the naïve but passionate Wendla, opens the show with an impassioned plea for love and understanding. In contrast to her forced innocence, Melchior Gabor (Jack Posey) is all too aware of the Puritan ludicrousness of the society he is living in. He teaches his best friend Moritz (Ben Ribler) the secret knowledge of human reproduction (complete with illustrations), the mechanics of which nearly drive him mad. It was a real pleasure to see Posey and Ribler rock out with complete abandon during numbers like “The Bitch of Living” and “Don’t Do Sadness.” Although this “concert version” was not fully staged, there was a lot of excellent dancing employed, courtesy of Choreographer and Assistant Director Marielle Burt.
I was impressed with the depth of emotion these young actors were able to express. During “The Word of Your Body,” Posey and Goodson nailed the delicate contrast between fear and desire that so characterizes their brief but passionate relationship. The same is true for Jamie Green and Ray Clardy (Hanschen and Ernst, respectively), who fearlessly tackle their gay love scene with commitment and authenticity. It is also compelling to watch Lexie McEntire as Ilse, a young bohemian who simply left home to live with an artist’s colony. Her rendition of “Blue Wind” is vocally strong and emotionally arresting.
Little Butterfly Theatre Company claims that its vision is “to create theatre that challenges the rigid societal definitions of what is “acceptable” and “beautiful” and “natural”… though butterflies may be young, they are old enough to have wings and should therefore be free to fly.” If that is the case, they certainly chose the right show to kick off their season. Spring Awakening includes teen pregnancy, masturbation, suicide, abortion, and homosexuality, not to mention a surprising scene of woodland S & M. To ignore the fact that teenagers today confront all of these issues is to be as blind as the ignorant Frauleins depicted in the play. So I commend Little Butterfly for tackling these issues head on, both with their choice of show and their choice to use a young cast. There may very well have been some parents squirming in their seats, but that’s okay if serves as the beginning of an open dialogue around difficult issues. After all, if we can’t all connect through the language of rock n’ roll, what else is there?
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.
Spring Awakening (Concert Version) closes tonight, June 15, 2014 at 7 PM at Little Butterfly Theatre Company performing at the Old Firehouse Teen Center -1440 Chain Bridge Road in McLean, Virginia. You can purchase tickets online.
Little Butterfly Theatre Company’s website.