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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Spring Awakening"

During the pre-show curtain speech on opening night at the Theatre Institute at Sage production of “Spring Awakening,”  the director, Leigh Strimbeck, told the audience, “Sometimes the right cast comes together for the right musical at the right time and the right place.   This is one of those times.”

She was right.  I rarely compare productions of the same show, but for me this “Spring Awakening,” which is at Russell Sage College in Troy, through Sunday is a more satisfying experiences than was the national touring version which played at Proctors a couple of seasons ago.

To be clear, I am not saying this production which is performed mostly by college students on a low budget is better than a professional production.   However, the innocence and sincerity of the performers only a few years removed from the trauma and angst of their own adolescence makes the work seem personal to point of almost being confessional in nature.  

This is not meant to diminish the talent of the student performers.  The entire cast is solid, with the three central roles being especially well-played.  Lucas Phayre-Gonzalez brings a gentle charm to Melchior the decent young man who finds himself a victim of poor choices.   Katie Pedro is a vulnerable Wendla, the innocent young girl who suffers because of a trusting nature.  Austin Lombardi is touching as the constantly agitated Moritz, the trouble young man who cannot handle the pressure placed upon him by parents and other authority figures.  Indeed, most portrayals are nicely developed and all do incredible work as members of a finely honed ensemble.

Presenting the work in the 100-seat James L. Meader Theatre is also an asset as it adds a needed intimacy to the work.   The show has a soft rock score, which is excellent as it brings a contemporary attitude to a work whose origins are more than a century old.   Rather than having the score distant you from the plight of the young characters, the student performers aided by their surroundings bring a sense of authenticity to the angst taking place on stage. 

By the way, kudos to set designer Juliana Haubrich for creating a clever, open and functional set which is enhanced by Robert Brisson’s moody light.   Completing the superb technical support is the phenomenal period costumes by Lynne Roblin.

The story involves a group of students at a harsh pressure-filled school.    It is a time when the self-identities of the students are still developing, yet their sexual urges are rampant.   They not only don’t have the answers to their problems, they don’t even know the questions to ask. 

It makes no difference, as there are no adults sensible or compassionate enough to listen to pleas for help or wise enough to have the answers their charges need. 

Indeed, what makes this work such a solid piece of theater is that it is not only a play about the problems of youth, it is also a case study for bad adult behavior.   The adults in the work (all nicely played by Kathleen Carey and Matt Harvey) fail to offer the support and guidance needed to help the children at risk.  Worse they never learn from the tragedies they helped create.

“Spring Awakening” is filled with contemplative and heartbreaking moments. Besides eliciting honest performances from the talented cast, director Strimbeck maintains a careful balance with the varying moods within the play, which ranges from tragic to youthfully exuberant.  Choreographer Kyrie Ellison helps add energy to several numbers as she wisely incorporates the movement established by Bill T. Jones in the original 2007 Tony Award winning Broadway production.

“Spring Awakening” is an intense musical that explores mature themes.  Some scenes are sexually suggestive and the language is even worse than that heard on school busses.  But nothing is overt or intentionally offensive.  However, though “Spring Awakening” is a play about adolescents, examine the maturity of any child you might bring to the show.  

For adults - just go see the show. And when you do, pay attention - for there is a lot of wisdom within the story.

“Spring Awakening” by Theatre Institute at Sage in the James L.  Meader Theater on the campus of Russell Sage College, Troy.   Performances 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.   244-2248.

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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