The thirteen-member student cast makes the most and best of Duncan Sheik’s music, memorably bringing out the lovely choral harmonies,or,in solos, duos, trios etc sweet where vulnerable tenderness belongs, or with the right kind of urgency in throbbing rock numbers. Meanwhile the eight member orchestra, directed by Thomas Douglas, plays everything superbly.
The emerging artists on stage move with grace and meaning in Cousin’s many memorable ideas of how to make bodies say what words may not. He fills the stage with movement, using the large space to have his young people ebb and flow, vividly alive finding themselves, while dominating adults tellingly hover above them. This is quite a difference from how I remember what I witnessed almost four years ago, where dark confines perfectly expressed a major element of the story’s time and setting. Tomè’s take suggests a different, although valid symbolic meaning. Yet, in the first act, the presumed oppressive social environment does not come across clearly and meaningfully.
Lyricist Steven Sater wrote the script based on a play by German author Frank Wedekind about life in an adult-dominated, repressive culture of a small German town in the 1890s. There, young people are starting to burst at the seams which confine them to childhood. They urgently want to grow, their bodies metamorphosing, but not knowing why or how to do what hearts and minds urge.
The main thrust of the story becomes ultimately tragic. Evidently Wedekind wanted to criticize such a society and to show how it damaged youth, dwelling on intelligent questioning of religion and of accepted ideas through one character, teen-age Melchior Gabor. That could have led to the original play being banned as well as the fact that it showed masturbation, teen sex, suicide, violence and abortion. The musical version incorporates all that. But you wouldn’t know how serious this is, or how serious it will become, from much of the first act. The second act brings that home.
Taylor Jack Helmboldt conveys Melchoir perfectly in every note and every gesture while Katya Stepanov and Nick Rehberger continually make vivid and distinctive all the roles of the adults in the story. Everyone else remains convincingly dear, as if you’d want to hold them and comfort them on their way to what could be a brighter future both as characters and performers. Continuing to display his imaginative artistry, Tomè baptizes them into such a new day.
Spring Awakening continues through March 2nd at Philip Chosky Theater, Purnell Center for the Arts, on the CMU campus, Oakland. 412/268-2407. www.drama.cmu.edu