‘Spring Awakening’ at Montgomery College by Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell

Teenage sexuality and rebellion; adult cruelty and hypocrisy; deeply intense drama and moments of humor; alternative rock music and folk ballads — these are just some of the elements in the Tony Award-winning musical, Spring Awakening, currently being performed at Montgomery College in Rockville. Spring Awakening is based on the 1891 play of the same name, written by Frank Wedekind, and deals with the same mature themes as the original, including child abuse, abortion, masturbation, homosexuality, suicide, and the conflicts between the older and younger generations.

Aurora Beckett (Wendla) and Matt Krug (Melchior) in 'Spring Awakening.' Photo by R. Scott Hengen.
Aurora Beckett (Wendla) and Matt Krug (Melchior) in ‘Spring Awakening.’ Photo by R. Scott Hengen.

Under the creative direction of Bill Gillett, talented students portray middle-aged adults as well as teenagers and sing and dance with talent and commitment that displayed  professional quality. We expected college students to successfully play younger teenagers — and we were not disappointed — but Gina Johnson’s portrayal of the female adults and Francisco Borja’s portrayal of the male adults were extremely impressive.

The musical opens not with an overture, but rather with the pubescent Wendla, played by Aurora Beckett, asking her mother where babies come from. Beckett’s voice has a childlike quality to it, and she and Gina Johnson are absolutely believable as mother and daughter. A humorous moment occurs when the mother covers her daughter’s face with a towel because she’s embarrassed to talk about the facts of life. Wendla sings, “Mama Who Bore Me” and leads the girls in a dance number that includes dancing on and off wooden chairs.

Kudos to the exceptional design team. Elizabeth McFadden’s simple yet effective single set utilizes chairs that remain in place throughout the entire show. There is a stone façade with two windows and a large wooden door, and two side structures that look like prison bars. There are ladders on either side of the door and a tree limb above stage right. Except for the chairs and one moveable table. So, in order to “change scenes,” the director skillfully uses lighting effects along with some smoke and haze effects to evoke the appropriate emotions for each scene. In particular, Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin uses blue lights to represent sadness, gloom, and despair, orange and yellow lights to represent warmth, and purple lights to represent hope. In the funeral scene, tiny white lights above the stage are used to symbolize heaven. Neil McFadden provided excellent sound and Peter Zakutansky provided the era-appropriate costume design.

The musical continues with the boys in school including Melchior, (Matthew Krug), and Moritz (Danie Rodriguez). Moritz leads the boys in a rock song with a driving beat, “The Bitch of Living.” The girls follow with “My Junk” and the boys join in the dancing. Then comes “Touch Me” with the girls’ ensemble touching themselves in slow motion. Wendla and Melchior sing a duet to “The Word of Your Body” and dance a ballet. Act I concludes with an intimate scene between Wendla and Melchior, which is done with subtlety—upstage and in low lighting.

Act II opens with the conclusion of intimate scene in the hayloft, juxtaposed with the ensemble at a church service. The two teenagers feel they are indeed “The Guilty Ones.” The narrative continues with Moritz and Ilse, his old friend who had run away from home to join an artists’ colony. Moritz defiantly sings “Don’t Do Sadness” and Ilse, played by Briana Taylor, sings the haunting “Blue Wind.” Both voices are clear and strong and compelling.

Another of the rare humorous moments comes when two of the other boys, Hanschen (Jacob Meile) and Ernst (Connor Laughland) play a comedic affectionate scene by satirizing “The Word of Your Body.” However, Melchior is “Totally Fucked (and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye” when he is expelled from school and confined to a reformatory. Other tragedies befell the characters.

Of special note is Jenny Male’s choreography, which runs the gamut from slow motion to punk rock to ballet. Music Director Jonathan Tuzman effectively leads a seven-piece band through a challenging score. Guitarist Jaime Ibacache deserves particular mention.

Due to its mature themes and language, Spring Awakening might not cater to all tastes. However, if you’re a young person, you will recognize the joys and the sorrows of youth and if you’re not so young, you will be reminded of the roller-coaster ride of emotions when you were that age.

Lest you think that the story is completely depressing and unrelentingly sad, so let’s return to the hopeful conclusion of Act II. Melchior sees the ghosts of his friends who have passed on and they convince him to move on with his life and to keep the memories of “Those You’ve Known” in his heart forever.

1622700_10202329182086266_633342615_nWith the stage bathed in purple light, Ilse leads the ensemble in the triumphant, “Song of Purple Summer.” As the song goes on, the purple light intensifies and the characters realize that, no matter how much tragedy life brings, there is still a ray of hope for the future.

And all shall fade
The flowers of spring
The world and all the sorrow
At the heart of everything
But still it stays
The butterfly sings
And opens purple summer
With the flutter of its wings
And all shall know the wonder
I will sing the song of purple summer

Running Time: 2 hours, with a 10-minute intermission.

Spring Awakening plays through this Sunday, March 2, 2014 at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.


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