Critic's Corner: Day Star's 'Spring Awakening'
Many teenagers, parents and teachers have grappled with the urge for rebellion and independence that often strikes along with puberty. Spring Awakening, a rock musical, boldly and explicitly explores the feelings and actions of a group of teenagers who strive for knowledge and independence in Germany in the late 1800s. Specifically, the musical deals with the teenagers’ newfound sexual desires and their ignorance of what is going on with their bodies. An inadequate sexual education system and an array of parents who refuse to discuss the topic with their children represent the opposing force to the teenagers’ unbridled and passionate lust for knowledge — and for each other.
Led by Anton Haggblom’s Melchior Gabor, an atheist and free-thinker who rebels against the strictures of society, the cast does a marvelous job of portraying their characters’ struggles against the adults in their lives. Although Haggblom’s accent took some getting used to, his delivery was honest and believable. Especially remarkable was his natural and electric chemistry with Noa Carmel’s Wendla, which helped bolster a beautiful rendition of “Wounded.” Carmel performed her role with the requisite tenderness and innocence and imbued “Whispering” with a crushing and sincere emotional weight.
Kellie Smith’s portrayal of Martha was brutally truthful. Her release of anger toward her abusive father made the hairs on my arms stand on end. Danny Kornfeld was also especially fantastic as Moritz, whose anxiety-ridden descent into despair is heartbreaking. Georg, played by UCF theatre alumnus Trevor Starr, added some much-needed comic relief with his hilariously inappropriate affections for his piano teacher.
Although the show was carried by a handful of strong individual performances and the chemistry between Haggblom and Carmel, some of Spring Awakening’s early group numbers fell flat. The sound balance was off during “Bitch of Living,” in which the boys of the show describe their sexual frustrations in graphic fashion. Although it was performed well, I couldn't hear the soloists over the rest of the ensemble, and many parts of the song designed to evoke an audience reaction simply didn’t as a result. It’s unclear whether the blame rests on the actors or the sound technicians, or some combination of the two. Plus, Day Star decided to cast a few performers who weren't experienced in theater, and at times, it showed.
The group numbers got stronger as Spring Awakening progressed, though. In the second act, “Left Behind” packed a heart-wrenching punch to the whole audience and “Totally Fucked” was a cathartic and rambunctious release of the teens’ frustrations toward their superiors.
Jacques Broguet’s choreography was true to the characters’ feelings in each song. The chaotic, mosh pit-like performance of “Totally Fucked” stood out as a wonderful example of the show's energetic and organic staging.
Spring Awakening’s set and lighting, designed by Nate Krebs and Correy Wissig, respectively, were masterfully done. Most of the show’s action occurs within three walls of light-colored wood that effectively give the feel of late 1800s Germany. The set simultaneously evokes the setting and serves as a perfect background for the projections, which do wonders for the mood of such a sparsely-staged show. The lighting was nearly perfect, casting the characters in shades that only heightened their emotions. The lighting was incorporated effectively into the set as well.
Overall, Day Star Studio Productions has mounted a production of Spring Awakening that deals honestly and effectively with the difficult emotions around which the musical revolves. Although it’s not perfect, it succeeds on its beautifully integrated set and raw, stirring performances by its core actors. The show will have leave you with some combination of sadness, hope and frustration — and that’s exactly how it's supposed to be.
Spring Awakening runs through June 26 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Alex Storer is a junior theatre studies major at UCF.
Alex Storer is the Entertainment Editor of the Central Florida Future. You can reach him at AlexanderS@centralfloridafuture.com.