The original cast album of Spring Awakening (music by Duncan Sheik with book and lyrics by Steven Sater) is still in heavy rotation in my iPod, not only because it's a terrifically catchy score, but because of its dramatic power as well. And though some may try to draw comparisons to the touring company that came to the Fox in 2009, there's really nothing to be gained by doing that. Stray Dog Theatre's current presentation is a much more intimate and "in your face" production that may well carry more impact. It certainly affected me deeply, in fact, I could hardly sleep after seeing the show, with the songs and performances spinning around my brain in continual motion. This is a beautiful and haunting rendering that provides must-see entertainment for any theatre-goer.
Frank Wedekind's controversial play, written in 1891, is given a modern voice by Sater and Sheik. The original plot elements are still in place, but the themes of adolescent angst centering specifically around their sexual awakening, are given a bed of supremely catchy and artfully constructed chamber pop to lie upon. More importantly, the themes are still timely.
Ryan Foizey makes a vivid impression as Moritz, a misfit destined for failure, and a sadly tragic finish. And, he rocks out on "The Bitch of Living" and "And Then There Were None". Zach Wachter is also very strong as his friend, Melchior. A descriptive essay on sex (complete with illustrations) leads to his expulsion, before more darkness descends. And it's at that point that he delivers one of the best songs of the evening, "Totally F*****"; an explosive number that drew a huge response from the audience.
Melissa Southmayd is delicate, lovely and hopelessly naive as Wendla, who discovers her sexuality in a hay loft with Melchior. "The Word of Your Body" finds her duetting with Wachter in a sensual exchange of lyrical innuendo. "Mama Who Bore Me" pours forth from her as she struggles to get her repressed mother to tell her the facts of life. Anna Skidis shows off her powerful vocals as Ilse, a girl who's fallen from grace, resorting to nude modeling for horny old artists. Her take on "Blue Wind" made me wish the character had been given more material to sing. Jan Niehoff and Keith Thompson are splendid as they take on the adult roles in the show. They're counted on to assume a variety of parts that are distinct contrasts in styles, and they both do so with considerable aplomb.
A wonderful supporting cast includes: Meadow Nguy (Martha), Sabra Sellers (Thea), Natalie Sannes (Anna), Paul Cereghino (Hanschen), C.E. Fifer (Georg), and Anthony Christopher Milfelt (Otto).
Justin Been's direction is superb, fully capturing the spirit of the piece and drawing great performances from his cast. J.T.Ricroft's choreography is energetic and on par with the Broadway version, and Chris Petersen's music direction is spot on. David Blake's scenic design is stark and somber, matching the tone of the show, while Tyler Duenow's understated lighting heightens the dramatic impact. Alexandra Scibetta Quigley contributes the costumes which perfectly match the period.
I cannot say enough good things about Stray Dog Theatre's production of Spring Awakening. It's truly an eye-opening presentation that delivers on all counts. As they enter their tenth season, they've given us a truly memorable evening of theatre that will linger in the memory long after the show's final number brings it to a close.