On Saturday afternoon, I saw the eight-time Tony Award-winning rock musical Spring Awakening by Act Two at Levine‘s Pre-Professional Program in Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle. The enthusiastic audience was enraptured at the matinee and the show received a standing ovation at the end.
I was absolutely stunned and thrilled by the ‘professional’ quality of this production-from Director Kevin Kuchar’s design, direction (with Assistant Director Sofie Scott), costume design, and choreography (with Assistant Choreographer Rachael Schindler), and the performances of this incredibly talented young cast.
This is a review of the Saturday, January 10, 2015 matinee performance and cast.
Spring Awakening has a Tony Award-winning score by Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater (lyrics), who also wrote the book, based on the book Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind.
The show takes place in 19th Century conservative Germany, where students embarking on puberty are not educated on the ‘birds and the bees’ and the disastrous consequences of keeping them in the dark. Anyone can relate to what these characters are going through as they grapple changing from a child to an adult, and being stuck between those two worlds.
What makes this musical and this production so great is the brilliant score, and the dazzling choreography. There is also superb work by Vocal Coach Duane Moody, Music Director Josephine Riggs and her fine musicians, and Choreographer Kevin Kuchar and his Assistant Choreographer Rachael Schindler, and the exceptional singing and dancing of the talented cast.
Liam Allen not only has a beautiful voice but he also displayed great stage presence and confidence playing the ‘rebel’ Melchior Gabor, the confident protagonist who is more educated than his fellow young students about life and sex. He provided stunning vocals on “All That’s Known,” and Left Behind.”
Gillian Han played the doomed Wendla Bergmann and provided gorgeous and emotional vocals on “Mama Who Bore Me” and The Word of Your Body” with Liam Allen.
Jhonny Maldonado stole the show not only with his fabulous ‘doo’ but with his intense, nervous, and confused Moritz Stiefel. His show-stopping performance of ‘Don’t Do Sadness’ rocked the place.
Paige Cilluffo played the strong Illse and her lush vocals on “Blue Wind” were simply gorgeous, and with Maldonado their “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind (Reprise)” was so heartbreaking. I wiped away some tears when it was over.
Leo Scheck (Hanschen) and Peter Ely (Ernst) had great chemistry and provided some much-needed humor and hope with their duet “The Word of Your Body (Reprise).”
I especially loved “I Believe” with its exquisite harmonies. I also enjoyed the high-energy choreography of “Totally Fucked,” where the students jumped around like crazy in an emotional frenzy. It was ironic to me that the cast wasn’t allowed to sing the word “fucked” during the song as the musical is about censorship and its disastrous consequences. But it was very clever and inspiring to see them use American Sign Language gestures to express the word.
A special congrats to the entire hard-working and talented cast and ensemble:
Melchior Gabor (Liam Allen)
Wendla Bergmann (Gillian Han)
Moritz Stiefel (Jhonny Maldonado)
Ilse (Paige Cilluffo)
Martha (Julia Bratburd)
Thea (Mariaugustina Fabara)
Anna (Elie McCoy)
Hanschen (Leo Scheck)
Ernst (Peter Ely)
Otto (Max Fowler)
Georg (Forrest Jacobs)
Frau Bergmann (Maddie Rinehart)
Frau Gabor (Becca Haven)
Dieter (Andrew Stover)
Rupert (Sebastian Amoruso)
Reinhold (Justin Marks)
Ulbrecht (Riley Lopez)
Herr Sonnenstich (Cameron Mitchell)
Frau Knuppeldick (Abby Keyes)
Frau Grossenbustenhalter (Claire DeCroix)
Herr Knochenbruch (Cameron Mitchell)
Father Kaulbach (Maria Martin)
Herr Gabor (Max Fowler)
Herr Rilow (Cameron Mitchell)
Frau Bessell (Talia Frank-Stempel)
Schmidt (Ben Shrock)
Dr. von Brausepulver (Cameron Mitchell)
Kevin Kuchar’s effective set utilized several video screens to set the scene from a graveyard, to outside, and to the school. The set also cleverly used chairs for the school during the songs and dancing. Kuchar’s costumes also set the mood of the scene. The male students wore the same dark, conservative, military type outfits, while the female students wore conservative dresses covering up their whole bodies. The male strict teacher wore an all black outfit while the female strict teacher wore a tight red outfit that stood out against the sea of black. Kuchar also designed some colorful outfits for scenes outside the school.
Lighting Design/Technical Consultant Scott Selman provided Broadway-caliber lighting which set the somber tone of the show. He was ably supported by Sound Designer Aidan Gray and Technical Director Adam Bacigalupo. Congrats also to Prop Design/Manager Max Fowler and Stage Manager Rachel D’Amboise for their fine work.
Act Two @ Levine’s Spring Awakening was astounding. It exceeded all my expectations. I can’t wait to see their upcoming productions.
This is the first in a series of three plays for the Pre-Professional Program. The next shows are Big Fish (March 20-22 at THEARC) and Cabaret at Woolly Mammoth Theater (May 22-24). More information is here.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.
Spring Awakening ended its brief run on January 11, 2014 in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre-1101 6th Street, SW, in Washington, DC.
Act Two at Levine’s website.
DCMetroTheaterArts’ coverage of Act Two@Levine.
Note: Joel Markowitz also contributed to this review.