Candid tale of youthful struggle

Sexual evolution frankly explored

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The facts of life in the coming-of-age rock musical Spring Awakening is that teenagers are horny and parents are in denial.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2011 (3918 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The facts of life in the coming-of-age rock musical Spring Awakening is that teenagers are horny and parents are in denial.

In the opening scene of the proudly explicit Steven Sater/Duncan Shiek musical, the sweet 14-year-old Wendla screws up the courage to ask her mother about where babies come from, refusing to accept the stork fairy tale any longer. Her prudish mom can’t or will not talk about procreation, which will have disastrous consequences for both of them.

Spring Awakening is based on Frank Wedekind’s brutally candid 1891 tale of desire and repression, which Americans Sater and Shiek have utilized to explore the longings, doubts, fears and joys of youth then and now. By shuffling the mid-story scene of Wendla questioning her mother to the beginning, they point an accusing finger at adults and their strict bourgeoise morality in a repressive German town. Left to deal with “the itch you can’t control,” the angst-ridden schoolboys and girls embark on a quest of sexual discovery that is doomed. They are ill-equipped to live with raging hormones, communal masturbation, incest, homosexuality, intercourse, abortion and masochism.

Photos by Lloyd Habster Provocative material is the hallmark of the musical Spring Awakening.

What makes Spring Awakening so worthy of its eight 2007 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is how its creators tell a 19th-century tale with a 21st-century alt-rock soundtrack that pumps up the volume on the primal scream of youthful confusion.

The songs with their modern vocabulary serve as interior monologues that reveal every feeling and secret they can’t express to their elders. The angry boys in their grey school suit jackets and knickers are being disciplined by their dictatorial teacher when they pull out their microphones and break into The Bitch of Living. Later the girls reveal their longings in My Junk (“We’ve all got our junk, and my junk is you.”).

The Winnipeg Studio Theatre regular-season debut production at the RMTC Warehose Theatre makes a bold, ambitious entrance that earns its mature content and language warnings. Spring Awakening is erotically charged although director Kayla Gordon shows restraint with some of her provocative material. By local norms, it is still graphic and real. The frank 130-minute drama peaks with the rousing Totally F***ed, a release of orgasmic intensity reflected by bodies bobbing to Brenda Gorlick’s pulsing choreography.

Brian Perchaluk’s set is simple, with a raised playing area made of wooden planks that are stomped by the 16-member cast into a forceful beat that drives many of the energetic numbers. It is surrounded by a competent eight-member band led by Andrew St. Hilaire at the back of the stage and bleachers on the sides.

The story centres around the curious Wendla, the hunky class atheist Melchior and his friend the sexually anguished Moritz. Melchior offers sex education to the other two and the lessons they learn are harsh. All three leads are irresistible: Samantha Hill captures the downy innocence of Wendla as well as her little-girl need to be whipped by Melchior in the hopes of feeling something, anything, even pain.

Jeremy Walmsley has a lovely voice and the charisma to make a convincing Melchior, the class leader who will not accept the status quo. Colin Peterson, with his Eraserhead hair, brings some humour to his portrayal of Moritz, whose erotic dreams are keeping him up at night while undermining his chances of graduating and pleasing his demanding dad. His duet with Ilse of Don’t Do Sadness is especially poignant.

Veteran local actors Mariam Bernstein and Arne MacPherson play all the heartless parents and teachers, suggesting perhaps that all adults are the same. Others in the supporting cast who stand out are: Aubree Erickson, as sadder but wiser Ilse, and Connie Manfredi as Martha, whose haunting tune The Dark I Know Well chronicles the abuse they suffer by their fathers. Aaron Pridham also deserves a hand for his work as the lusting Georg.

The only disappointment is that the ending is too soft-hearted and hits a false note in The Song of Purple Summer by introducing hope where none is warranted.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

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