‘Spring Awakening’ at Dominion Stage by Doug Poms

Spring Awakening, the 2007 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, is back in the DC area in a new production at Dominion Stage. The much beloved show with music by Duncan Sheik and a book and lyrics by Steven Sater is based on a controversial German play of the same name from the 1890s.

Jenny Christine (Wendla). Photo by John Tresh.

Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of teenagers living in turn of the 20th century Germany coming to terms with their own sexuality, a subject that is rarely discussed in their puritanical community. This suppression leads to serious consequences for some of them. The musical is youthful, creative and daring, and Sheik’s alternative rock/folk score is beautiful, filled with both melodic choral ballads such as “My Junk” and rousing rock anthems like “Bitch of Living.”

Unfortunately the performance I attended was plagued by sound problems, especially early in the performance. The actors were hard to hear at times, and the choral numbers sounded out of sync, especially with “My Junk.” I know that when the sound problems are ironed out, this production will be exceptional.

Some of the players seemed to be a bit out of their league with the challenging score. Although Josh Goldman, was very articulate in his singing and fairly strong on “Left Behind,” I wish he was more convincing as rebel Melchior Gabor. He lacked the right voice for the alternative rock numbers that his character sings such as “Totally Fucked,” a normally jolting and humorous number that received very little reaction from the audience. Likewise, I wish that Dejon Campbell showed more edge and depth in his performance of the pivotal role of Moritz Stefiel.

Patrick Rossi (Ernst). Photo by John Tresh.

On a more positive note there were some fantastic performances. Jenny Christine was exceptional as Wendla Bergmann with her fine singing voice on her many solos including “Mama Who Bore Me” while Rosemarie Stephens-Booker was a lovely Ilsa and sang her numbers beautifully, including “Blue Wind” and the touching “Song of Purple Summer.” Christopher Gillespie and Kimberley Cetron were terrific in the multiple “Adult” parts.

The orchestra led by John-Michael d’Haviland sounded terrific, touting a nice-sized string section that lifted the musical performances. The show features some ground breaking choreography (here adapted by Amanda Layton Whiteman) and this production included an effective use of hand movements and gestures that the communicated well the teenagers’ turmoil over their self awareness of their bodies and sexuality. The show moved well under the direction of William Parker.

Kendra Spencer (Anna). Photo by John Tresh.

The set by Baron Pugh featured a raised square platform in the middle of the stage that was the center of much of the show’s action involving the teenagers. Players sat on rows of chairs lined up on each side of the platform when not involved in the action. For some reason the chairs were so far removed from the central platform that only the center section orchestra could really see all of it and appreciate the scenic device. Four screens at the back of the stage depicted a tree that figures into the action. The appropriately period costumes by Linda Baker were excellent. The lighting (also by Baron Pugh) was uneven, sometimes quite strong (for example, in a scene depicting a colorful sunset) while other times seemed to be off.

Spring Awakening is one of those shows that brings the younger generation to the theater, which is a wonderful thing. Young and old should experience this bold and poignant piece of musical theater.

I have seen several production of Spring Awakening  and The Dominion Stage –  better than others I have seen – showcases this fine work and is a good opportunity to see it performed.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Spring Awakening plays through October 20, 2012, at Dominion Stage at the Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre One – 2700 S. Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets call (571) DS-SHOWS, or purchase them online.



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