With Wendla’s opening lament of not feeling that her mother has properly taught her the things she needs to know about life, Spring Awakening: The Musical is the story of a group of young teenagers struggling with the transition from adolescence into adulthood in a repressive 19th century society.
Spring Awakening: The Musical is Orpheus Musical Theatre’s leap towards serving a younger, hipper audience. Making use of the new, state of the art Centrepointe Theatre Studio as their stage, the idea is to present a different branch of musical theatre compared to the large scale mass appeal musicals Orpheus is known for. Indeed, when I first saw that Orpheus had announced Spring Awakening for this season, I’d thought, “Bold move. Certainly not your typical Orpheus fare.”
Orpheus’ presentation of Spring Awakening: The Musical is musically beyond reproach. Phillip Merriman, Cameron Jones, and especially Justice Tremblay (as Melchior, Moritz, and tragic, sheltered Wendla respectively) are all fantastic singers who succeed at bringing sincerity to the show’s energetic score. Dramatically, each of those three central characters also succeed at finding moments to earn empathy through their tragedy.
They’re supported by the wonderful acoustics and sound system of the Centrepointe Studio which also benefits an area Orpheus has had mixed results in the past. Where in the much larger Centrepointe Theatre, the choral numbers can often sound discordant, SA: The Musical in the Studio has no such troubles.
As a departure from Orpheus’ full on spectacles, the stage here is greatly scaled back, pushing you to focus on the intimacy of the actors, their emotions, and the stories they’re trying to convey, all to great effect. The orchestra is set out upstage center, and much of the cast sits in chairs on the side while waiting for their scenes.
It’s important to know going into SA: The Musical that the subject matter is dark and intended for mature audiences only. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, suicide, and rape to give but a sampling. Part of the trouble with SA: The Musical is the dichotomy of delving into this subject matter while then jumping into high energy folksy rock numbers. With scenes including the chorus dry humping chairs and a boy masturbating to orgasm with girls dancing merrily around him, a reaction of, “What am I watching?” may not be uncommon among the unprepared.
The other trouble with SA: The Musical is the plot’s lack of a clear structure and being more a collection of scenes related by a setting and loose theme. Many of the plots and sub-plots are left unresolved, unexplored, or given too glancing a nod for the weight of the subject matter. It would be nice if we could say that SA: The Musical set out to be ambiguous so as to have us ask the moral questions but it fails to do so in any meaningful, coherent way. Even the main through line mostly wrought anger more than dramatic satisfaction.
All that to say that I happily applaud Orpheus’ initiative and greatly welcome smaller, more intimate shows such as this, but while having some entertaining moments, SA: The Musical didn’t do anything for me.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. What were your feelings after you left the studio? Did I clearly miss the entire point? Join the discussion and tell me in the comments below.