Review: ‘Spring Awakening’ at Metropolitan Youth Theatre

The inevitability of change defines the human experience. We are all subject to our desires, even when we don’t fully understand them. And curiosity and the intrinsic want and need to feel emotions and understand body and mind fuels our existence. The rock musical Spring Awakening explores all these aspects of the human condition through a timeless piece of theatre that focuses squarely and unflinchingly on raw human emotions and desires.

The cast of 'Spring Awakening.' Photo by Glenn Cook Photography.
The cast of ‘Spring Awakening.’ Photo by Glenn Cook Photography.

A German play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891, Spring Awakening was adapted into a rock musical in the late 1900s, with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater. Spring Awakening is a story of adolescence and self discovery. The characters do not yet understand their emotions, minds, and bodies. They simply feel and experience and this allows audiences the rare freedom to do the same. Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s (MYT) production of Spring Awakening at 1st Stage completely captured the essence of this beautiful show. Their production was fearless, raw, and unapologetic.

Lexi Rhem as Wendla, Quentin Araujo as Melchior, and Carlos Castillo as Moritz delivered three standout performances among an almost uniformly excellent cast. Wendla and Melchior are two sides of the same coin in their adolescence. Wendla is a young girl who struggles with her emerging desires, and her confusion is exacerbated by her mother’s refusal to answer her questions regarding pregnancy and childbirth.

Melchior, on the other hand, is knowledgeable and educated on sex and sexuality and yearns to embrace his desires. Beautifully, the two help each other discover what the other longs for. Rhem and Araujo provided stunning and vulnerable performances. Rhem portrayed Wendla with a beautiful and heart breaking innocence. Her youth, curiosity, and longing were enticing and powerful. Araujo was just as captivating. He gave an incredibly honest performance and his voice was impressive both in it’s vocal strength and haunting emotional quality.

Moritz, experiences perhaps the most immense internal struggle and handled the layered character with grace. Castillo’s vocals on the song, “Don’t Do Sadness,” were powerful and heart wrenching. The pure rawness of Castillo’s portrayal allowed music and emotion to overtake his body and self, resulting in a beautifully honest performance.

Carlos Castillo (Moritz) and cast members. Photo by Glenn Cook Photography.
Carlos Castillo (Moritz) and cast members. Photo by Glenn Cook Photography.

Although these three individual performances were impressive, the fundamental beauty of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening emerged from the immense and honest intimacy shared among the entire cast. Much of this resulted from the outstanding direction by Chad Vann. Vann’s use of physical connection was breathtaking. No character was ever disconnected. No struggle was experienced alone. Every moment on stage was shared through touch; capturing the idea that no person is completely alone with the emotions they feel. Everyone experiences confusion, desire, pain, and loss.

The insightful direction was executed brilliantly by the entire cast and was most noticeable in the finale of Act one. The song “I Believe,” provides the musical backdrop for a most intimate scene between Wendla and Melchior. Under Vann’s direction, it became an intimate moment shared by the entire cast. As Wendla and Melchior became physically intimate, other cast members reached out and touched them, urging and helping them to consummate their love and desire. This unique physical contact among all cast members during this moment and countless others, captured the truth and beauty of Spring Awakening. It isn’t simply about one character or one relationship. It is the story of human desire. The story of self-discovery. And that is a story in which we all can share.

The intimacy and focus on emotions that made MYT’s production of Spring Awakening so special was seamlessly supported by the impressive music direction of James Woods, the energetic choreography by Georgia Monroe, and dramatic lighting by Kyle Dannahey. Each song was emotionally and powerfully delivered by actors focused on conveying a greater message or emotion rather than self consciously worrying about hitting the perfect note. And yet, the cast was filled with uniformly outstanding voices which supported that commitment to storytelling. They filled the theatre with beautiful harmonies that were supported by an outstanding orchestra conducted by music director James Woods.

Georgia Monroe’s choreography was a force to be reckoned with. During “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked,” energetic highlights of the show, Monroe’s choreography was uninhibited. Actors seemed completely controlled by the music as their bodies seemed to move in response to a need to release emotions. Throughout the show the choreography seemed needed rather than wanted, which is how all movement should seem. This is no small accomplishment for any production.

The lighting had the same magical quality. Whether pulsing with bright lights during the song “Totally fucked”, filling the stage with a dark red during “The Dark I Know Well” or ending the show with a single purple spotlight, the lighting by Dannahey became a character in the show. It was not only well executed and technically impressive, but it seemed to live as a product of the character’s emotions, telling the story just as much as the actors.

The true power in MYT’s Spring Awakening was achieved through the seamless connection of every aspect of the show. Every performance and technical aspect combined to share one story. Every choice was focused on honestly portraying the raw emotions and human desires that make Spring Awakening such a timeless tale.

Producer Sam Cornbrooks and the entire cast and crew achieved a level of seamless synergy and uniform excellence that is rare at any level of theater, and that is particularly impressive when considering the youthful nature of this production.

Spring Awakening at MYT is a breathtaking, fearless, selfless, and honest testament to how vibrant and beautiful live theatre can be.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

The cast of 'Spring Awakening.' Photo by Glenn Cook Photography.
The cast of ‘Spring Awakening.’ Photo by Glenn Cook Photography.

Spring Awakening plays July 29-31, 2016 at Metropolitan Youth Theatre performing at 1st Stage – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 1: Erin Claeys.

Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 2: Quentin Araujo.

Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 3: Lexi Rhem.

Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 4: Carlos Castillo.

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Elle Milewski.
Ellie Milewski.

Ellie Milewski is about to begin her Freshman year as a BFA Acting major at Penn State University. She plans to pursue theatre as a career. During her time living in DC area, Ellie has had amazing opportunities to work with theatres such as Arena Stage, Signature Theatre, Adventure Theatre, and The Theatre Lab School of the Performing Arts. As an avid storyteller and theatre enthusiast, Ellie was also a Cappies critic throughout her entire high school career and plans to pursue writing at the college level alongside her acting. She is truly thrilled and honored to have a chance to experience theatre like MYT’s Spring Awakening.

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