Sparks of potential fly in ‘Spring Awakening’ at Monumental Theatre

A production that marks the empowerment and awakening of a new generation of performers rocks out at Ainslie Arts Center.

Spring Awakening is a musical that keeps following me: from the 2015 Deaf West Broadway revival that got me hooked to the production of it that I worked on right after graduating high school, to being the last DC-area musical I saw before the pandemic, to now. As a young adult, watching other young artists at Monumental Theatre Company in Alexandria, Virginia, I wondered if the show would still resonate. At Monumental, this story of teenagers exploring their identities and sexualities did resonate with the heart and edge it brings in a production directed with empowerment by Megan Bunn. I just wished for a bit more power.

Based on the play by Frank Wedekind from the late 1800s, about teenagers’ sexual awakenings, the musical cleverly combines the 19th-century setting with a contemporary pop/rock musical theater score. This production is notable for the wide range of people they placed on the stage, showcasing a generation that cares about equality in race, gender, sexuality, and more — many in the diverse cast are current or recently graduated theater students. It revealed new ways of communicating those themes through raw talent from young people who get it, pop/rock stylistic vocal performances, and an intimate environment. All were effective; some could be pushed just a little further in the quieter moments.

The cast of ‘Spring Awakening.’ Photo by RJ Pavel.

This company’s command of this Duncan Sheik rock score is enough reason to see the show. Aidan Joyce, as the teenage Melchior, shifts between power rock, a whispery edgy sound, and clear contemporary musical theater with control, confidence, and grounded strength. As Wendla, Melchior’s love interest, Annie Graninger adds in grit on top of having a beautiful soft soprano mix, especially in “Mama Who Bore Me” and in added high notes in “Whispering” that make the song not just a quiet prayer but a resolve toward new life that gives Wendla more agency. Teralin Jones absolutely gets Ilse. Her vocal choices and pop whispery inflections support the haunting, resigned yet hopeful nature of the character. And when Trenton Beavers (Moritz) leans into hard rock in “Don’t Do Sadness,” his voice rings out the strongest.

Often with Spring Awakening, one can fall into the trap of “playing teen angst” rather than just being (typically a criticism of productions with adults too old to be teenagers). There were a few moments in early group scenes where performers collectively fell culprit to that, despite being close to the ages of teens. One could wish for more urgency in some of the performances, like the “Totally Fucked” feeling is there internally underneath, bursting to come out. There were hints of fighting with restraint throughout, but it could have been further unlocked by the collective ensemble at the beginning.

There were beautiful individual moments where the performers unlocked emotional truth as the show went on, revealing full complex characters. These were moments of action, presence, and instances of characters trying to understand — and either rejecting or embracing — each other.

That was the full-fledged rebellion of everyone in “Totally Fucked,” highlighted by rock- concert–like lighting (designed by Doug DelPizzo). When Ilse watches Martha (Gabrielle Rice) with quiet intensity, solidarity through strength and the powerful belts of both are felt in “The Dark I Know Well.” The buildup and true-to-heart desperation of the Wendla and Melchior beating scene, and everything that “I Believe” throws at Wendla and Melchior, communicated with clarity (with the help of Sierra Young, fight and intimacy director). Moritz’s heartbreaking penultimate scene with Ilse, which features a beautiful, respectful staging of his final moments. The evil joy in the degenerates (Kenny Carter, Cam Shegogue, Ethan Turbyfill, Deema Turkomani) picking on Melchior in the second act. The innocent joy of Ernst (Turkomani) and the chill control of Hanschen (Shegogue). Every time the adults (Molly Rumberger and Ryan Sellers) do precise little evil skips while walking on and off together. All were moments of high stakes that actors rose to the occasion for.

Clockwise from top left: Aidan Joyce (Melchior) and Trenton Beavers (Moritz); Annie Graninger (Wendla) and Aidan Joyce (Melchior); Cam Shegogue (Hanschen) and Deema Turkomani (Ernst) ‘in Spring Awakening.’ Photos by RJ Pavel.

The scenic environment lent itself well to this production’s small studio space. The overgrown plants on the wall, with windows and onstage platforms lightly evocative of an old church (designed by Laura Valenti), suggest young people growing further and faster than adults want them to. The production leans into the natural in its 19th-century costuming as well; Melchior and Wendla both wear different shades of green in looks designed by Darnell Morris.

Filling out the space with flowing movement, choreographer Ahmad Maaty gives this cast reflective, lyrical choreography that matches the emotions of each moment and works with the circular stage. Music director Marika Countouris’ band is placed behind the set, allowing for great sound balance (coordinated well with sound designer Alec Green). Notably the largest band Monumental’s ever had, they’re right on the rhythms for this pop/rock score.

This Spring Awakening is filled with much spark and talent. If every moment is given the anticipation and weight of some of the bigger most memorable ones, they’ll reach incredible heights. This company deserves to have more of those moments. Because when they all give themselves that permission, and move toward that mission Wendla has to feel, it’s beautiful.

Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Spring Awakening plays through July 24, 2023, presented by Monumental Theatre Company performing at Ainslie Arts Center on the campus of Episcopal High School, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA. Tickets are $45 and may be purchased online. A limited number of pay-what-you-can tickets are available for all performances. <

The digital playbill for Spring Awakening is available here. 

​Spring Awakening
Music by Duncan Sheik
Lyrics and Book by Steven Sater
Based on the book by Frank Wedekind
Director: Megan Bunn
Music Director: Marika Countouris
Choreographer: Ahmad Maaty
Fight and Intimacy Director: Sierra Young
Scenic Designer: Laura Valenti
Lighting Designer: Doug DelPizzo
Costume Designer: Darnell Morris
Sound Designer: Alec Green
Technical Director/Props Designer/Scenic Charge/Associate Set Design: Yaritza Pacheco
Sound Associate: Jack Giardina
Associate Choreographer/Stage Manager: Gabriella Giegerich
Assistant Stage Manager: Maddy Mustin
Production Assistant: Lucas Donat

Wendla: Annie Graninger
Melchior: Aidan Joyce
Moritz: Trenton Beavers
Ilse: Teralin Jones
Hanschen: Cam Shegogue
Ernst: Deema Turkomani
Georg: Kenny Carter
Otto: Ethan Turbyfill
Martha: Gabrielle Rice
Anna: Lily Gilan James
Thea: Nadja Tomaszewski
Adult Female: Molly Rumberger
Adult Male: Ryan Sellers
Swings: Chloe Lennox, Steven Franco

Conductor/Keys: Marika Countouris
Guitar: Jefferson Hirshman
Bass: Nick Graziano III
Cello: Oliver Cole
Violin: Olivia Rosen
Viola: Kevin Paredes
Drums/Percussion: Mike Barranco


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