BWW Review: SPRING AWAKENING at the Garden Theatre

More than 130 years have passed since then The German playwright Frank Wedekind published FRÜHLINGSERWACHEN for the first time. In 2006, the play was reinvented when Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater turned it into a musical.

But as the production of the musical Short North Stage proved once again, teenagers are still teenagers. Starring Luke Wilburn (Melchoir), Emma Rose Johnson (Wendla) and Sage Lee (Moritz), the musical delves into the dark turmoil many teenagers still navigate such as sexuality, self-doubt, depression, academics, parental pressures, abortion, and suicide. As it turns out, these themes were just as prevalent in Wedekind’s day as they were in Sheik’s and Sater’s day. In a masterpiece by director Edward Carignan, the production shows that these themes unfortunately still affect today’s youth.

After a COVID-hit opening weekend, SNS has extended the show through June 4 at the Garden Theater (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).

At a German boarding school, Melchoir is at the center of the troubles of his best friend Moritz and his love interest Wendla. Moritz fails at school because he is plagued by sensual dreams that he doesn’t understand. The more knowledgeable Melchoir illustrates a guide (complete with pictures) for his sexually repressed friend. Later, when the innocent Wendla asks Melchoir to share his knowledge with her, he offers her the first-hand experience.

Melchoir’s “Help” backfires in Act II. His diary is found among Moritz’s belongings after he commits suicide and Moritz is expelled. While in reform school, he learns his lesson from Wendla, which led to pregnancy and other complications.

What makes the show work is the chemistry of the cast. Johnson’s innocence and Wilburn’s knowledge of the world make the couple a compelling couple. Their harmony on songs like “The Word of Your Body” is palatable, and the heat they generate in their love scene has audiences squirming uncomfortably in their seats.

A great cast flanks the two main focuses of the show. Lee nails complicated Moritz, and his powerful act two performance of “I Don’t Do Sadness” is one of the show’s many highlights. Krista Stouffer (who plays all the adult female roles) and Thom Christopher Warren (who plays all the adult male roles) seem to soar effortlessly through various roles as the grieving parents of the manipulative schoolmasters.

Zuri Clarno (Martha), Hunter Minor (Hanschen), Nicholas Bradley (Ernst) and Sydney Freihofer (Isle) offer outstanding performances, while Nicholas Brunet, Dominic Catrone, Lillian Doll (Thea), Tessa Druhan, Patrick Gray, Shannon Lane (Anna ) , Carter Minor (Otto), Lorelei Roeger and Sara Ashleigh Tuohy complete this extraordinary cast.

Conducted by conductor Eric Alsford (keyboards), the orchestra of Olivia Conley (guitar), Robin D. Coolidge Jr. (cello), Alexander Locke (viola), William Mayer (drums), Mad Richards (guitar/violin, and Eric Stratton (bass) fills the lush, powerful score.

Carignan finds a way to bring the show to its current audience, where the cast interacts with implanted viewers and, to conclude, Melchoir shares his controversial diary with a teenager. It’s a poignant reminder that despite the many advances in culture and attitudes, many of the problems in today’s society have centuries-old roots.

SPRING AWAKENING continues its run with 7pm shows May 19-21, May 26-28 and June 3-4, with 2pm matinees May 22-29 at the Garden Theater (1187 N High Street). Call 614-725-4025 for details.

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