Spring Awakening, onstage now at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, under the direction of Timothy E. Locklear, is an intriguing, ballsy production that beautifully celebrates today’s improving climate of acceptance while also drawing attention to how far we still have to go.
The story, set in late 19th century Germany, opens with a reluctant “birds and the bees” talk between young Wendla (Natalia Soto) and her mother. Wendla wants to know the exact details of how babies are born, and, while her mother tries, she just can’t bring herself to tell her daughter the exact truth. What follows, however, is a tumultuous ride for young Wendla and her precocious lover Melchior (Ford Nelson). Serving as background to their tragic story, their friends come to their own “awakenings” of a sort, each met with widely varied results.
Though the subject matter of the musical is tough at best- it deals with sexuality and abuse of all types- Locklear handles it all in a refreshing, no-nonsense kind of way. He is unafraid to show Melchior masturbating clearly and fervently onstage, while handling the later matter of suicide in a softer, more subtle way. These directorial choices point to a true understanding of the poignancy of the script. It is not sexuality that needs hiding, and, when it and other truths of the human spirit are hidden, it leads to destruction, a fact this production boldly proclaims.
While Locklear’s direction is somewhat abstract, lending a dream-like quality to the production, Aya Wallace’s choreography is straightforward and abrupt. Her choreography is fun, loud, direct, and constant. Even during transitions, one can see Wallace’s influence through the contrasting starkness and smoothness that comprise these maneuvers and beautifully illustrate the confusion and false bravado of puberty.
Also nice and unique here are the built-in lighting panels. Worked seamlessly into the set, they easily set the tone of each scene. From soft purple to pure white to grass green, the color work here is on point and always beautifully reflects the happenings onstage.
Locklear also manages to wrangle a large cast in a small setting, giving each character his chance to shine. Particularly nice here is Nelson, who nails the intensity and suffering of his ill-fated character. Faith Jones’ Marta also shines as a vulnerable, abused girl, giving her character the right touches of softness and, in the end, strength.
The music is hauntingly beautiful, as well as hauntingly repeated throughout the performance. Highlights include the unabashed, raucously-choreographed “The Bitch of Living” and the sad but all-too-honest “The Dark I Know Well.”
Spring Awakening, much like other important but difficult works, is not one that you’ll likely want to see again, at least not for awhile, at least not until it’s had time to digest. Ultimately, though, it is one that you need to see and should see, for the importance of its message and for the beauty of its direction.
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