Spring Awakening by Park Productions & Performing Institute of Minnesota (PiM)

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For being the huge musical theater junkie that I am, I have never seen a production of Spring Awakening. I knew it was a show that was taboo with some people because of the sexual content of the show however that is really all I knew and that Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff were in the original Broadway productions. Because of this, I was extremely excited to see this production because I had nothing to compare it to.

Before I jump into the production, I want to explain what Park Productions and PiM are all about because I think it's pretty amazing what they do. Park Productions was founded to create summer performance opportunities for students at Main Street School of Performing Arts to work alongside emerging artists from around the Twin Cities. Performing Institute of Minnesota (PiM) is a performing arts school by day but will engage in professional productions by night. The community is invited and encouraged to engage in evening dance classes, music lessons, workshops, performances, and gallery presentations. Artistic collaborations like the one I attended are paving the way for the community to engage in the arts (lifted from the program).

Spring Awakening is set in late 19th-century Germany. It is based on Frank Wedekind's groundbreaking and controversial play (once banned in Germany) and is about the story of a sexual awakening, youth revolt, and self-discovery into a new century. Headstrong Melchior and naive Wendla stumble into each others' arms, passionate and curious, while anxious Moritz struggles to live up to society's standards. With only each other for guidance, the group of young men and women travel the fraught and rocky path of adolescence, discovering their bodies, their minds, and themselves along the way.

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After comprehending what the show as about and realizing that many of these performers were still in, or recently out of, high school I was fairly impressed. The show deals with some heavy subject matter including sexual content, physical and sexual abuse, and (SPOILER ALERT) suicide. Whether they were young or not each and every actor paid attention to the script and did it justice. While it may seem fun to be able to sing a song that says "fuck" multiple times and pretend to touch one's self on stage, they were honest about it. No actor went over the top to the point where it was goofing off. They played the roles realistically and as a fellow actor I appreciate that.

Spring Awakening has an interesting genre of music. It is not your typical Broadway music with belts but it isn't a rock pop opera like RENT. It really is in a league of its own with ballads, anthems and even with a bit of folk in it. Everyone had pretty fantastic voices with not only singing but emoting with the music, and again never going over the top with it. During the ensemble numbers I was so pleased to hear the beautiful harmonies of this score. No actor was fighting to be heard. Everyone was singing their part without all singing melody as well. While individually just about every actor had a nice voice, sometimes soloists would slip in the back.

At times I wouldn't hear them which caused me to lose some of the meaning of a few songs. I don't know if this was a technical issue with mics or actors not singing out enough but when they did sing out, they sounded great. Tristan Sima, who played Melchior, seemed to have too quiet of a voice at times. It wasn't until the song "The Mirror-Blue Night" when he really started to sing out that I noticed how rich his tone was. He need not be shy when singing cause his voice was beautiful. 

Molly Peterson was a wonderful Wendla. This part was originated on Broadway by Lea Michele and I think Peterson did it justice. She was the perfect amount of naive yet curious. The way she acted when she realized she had these feelings for Melchior was, I'm sure, all too nostalgic for many of us in the audience. You could see the gears turning in her head as she slowly realized things about herself that she didn't know before. Many of us can remember the first time we had a crush on someone. The butterflies the constant questions like "Does he like me back? Is he looking at me? What is he thinking" and Peterson captured those feelings perfectly without even having to say a word at times.

A stand out scene for me was when the actresses who played Martha and Ilse (Marley Ritchie and Elizabeth Schuetzle) sang The Dark I Know Well.  I enjoyed this scene as a whole very much despite the horrors of what the song is about. It is about the sexual abuse that one of the girls endures by her father. While the Ritchie and Schuetzle stood with microphones singing the lyrics on heightened platforms on either side of the stage, two soloist danced around the center of the stage. That brings me to the choreography by John Mark. It was something that I think a lot of musical theatre lacks now a days and that is simply modern dance. The song is already one of the most powerful songs in the score but Mark found a way to heighten this scene even more by adding these two skilled dancers with this beautifully choreographed dance.

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Mark does a lovely job of incorporating classic synchronized group numbers during songs like "All That's Known" and "Bitch of Living." Even when a song utilized almost all the actors, like "Totally Fucked," there is an air of organized chaos in the choreography which I absolutely loved. When it came to the artistic staff I also want to give a shout out to director Rachel Brady.

Brady takes on quite the challenge with this musical. It is a musical that is not done often, no doubt because of the subject matter. Add on not only professional actors but also high school actors and you run into quite the risk. That being said I think Brady's risk paid off. The trust the entire artistic and technical teams, including the performers, was shown onstage last night for their opening night.

Spring Awakening plays a limited run through July 29th. Tickets can be bought here.