‘Spring Awakening’ swings in Porchlight Music Theater staging despite missteps

It is a quarter of a century ago that the growing rock musical “Spring Awakening” won the Tony Awards. But in the Porchlight Music Theaters’ revival of Duncan Sheik (composer) and Steven Sater’s adaptation of German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1891 drama, one thing is still undeniable: Killer tracks like “Totally F *****” and “The B **** of Living “will resonate strongly as long as people experience anger, frustration, heartache and injustice.

In director / choreographer Brenda Didier’s staging, the brutal relevance shines through despite uneven vocals and some violently exaggerated acting.

Didier’s production is mostly solid, but in the midst of moments of soaring sublimity, the ensemble struggles with the score’s significant musical demands, especially the male roles.

The plot follows Wendla (Maya Lou Hlava), a smart, curious teenager who has not the faintest idea how babies are made, despite being an aunt twice. She asks her mother for information, but she is met with the uncertain implication that cute girls and proper women never talk about such things.

Wendla and early school friend Melchior (Jack DeCesare) fall in love and dream of a future where their children are not punished for asking questions.

Subplotter underscores the story’s exploration of deadly hypocrisy and rigid narrow-mindedness. Ilse (Tiffany T. Taylor) is an incest survivor who is thrown out of the house after reporting her father. Moritz Stiefel (Quinn Kelch) is devastated when he is told he has not passed his final exams.

Sheik’s score is rich in snarling, growling rock-and-roll anxiety, amplified by microphones the characters use as weapons, and choreography that is more Rolling Stones-in-an-arena tour than the small-town Germany of the 1890s. Porchlight gets the growl and snarl, the pitch less; turning up the volume does not mask acidic tones.

And conductor Justin Akira Kono’s six-man band is spread too thin. Despite the musicians’ passionate performances, there is a stiffness in the sound.

But Porchlight’s production also shines. Ensembles A cappella the mixture is wonderful. Its delivery of the text has a crystalline clarity.

Ariana Burks (from left), Sydney Monet Swanson, Maddy Kelly, Tiffany T. Taylor and Maya Lou Hlava in a scene from

Ariana Burks (from left), Sydney Monet Swanson, Maddy Kelly, Tiffany T. Taylor and Maya Lou Hlava in a scene from “Spring Awakening” at the Porchlight Music Theater.

Like Wendla, Hlava captures both the joy and the restless dissatisfaction of a young woman who is limited by societal expectations that leave no room for variation. From the bitter demands of “Mama Who Bore Me” to the sparkling hope of “Whispering”, Hlava conveys the whole emotional spectrum.

Alas, DeCesare is miscast as the upstart Melchior. DeCesare reads early 30s rather than late teens, and his mastery of the score’s top registry requirements is appalling. Kelchs Moritz is also struggling. He’s partly Billy Idol, partly Jim Carrey, both called up to 11 throughout, bringing Moritz within a whirlwind of comic book territory.

Then there is John Marshall Jr. as the outwardly delicate, secretly defiant glove. Marshall’s remarkably high falsetto is amazing, his bone-dry, comic timing is a highlight. There are plenty of doomed teenagers in “Spring Awakening”, but Marshall’s Hanschen – think Oscar Wilde meets George Michael – is determined not to be among them.

Taylor’s Ilse brings a rich, robust tragedy of “The Dark I Know Well,” and in her repeated, last chorus, she and Ariana Burks’ Martha deliver a power wave of hopeless rage that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up .

Like the adult men and women, McKinley Carter and Michael Joseph Mitchell move effectively from devilishly heartless (school leaders) to worried (Melchior’s mother) to mortally deceived (Moritz’s father).

No one on stage is helped by Patrick Chan’s lighting design, which features a distracting array of disco-like effects that flash on and off in different colors, and blue rays shoot up through the floor in a particular climactic moment.

Costume designer Bill Morey’s prairie dresses in summer cottages and awkward knee-length trousers credibly give the cast a late 19th-century vibe. Christopher Rhoton’s minimalist scenography, framed by carved trees, shows Didier’s expressive choreography.

“Spring Awakenings” depictions of sexuality cross a thin line between comedy, profundity and tragedy. And intimacy designer Kristina Fluty does not waver as much as a breath.

“Spring Awakening” is about shocking, not happy, endings. Despite its flaws, there is transcendence and beauty in Porchlight’s timely recording.

NOTE: The production arrives while “Spring Awakening” is experiencing a resurgence in pop culture: On Tuesday, HBO airs ‘Those You’ve Known’, a documentary exploring how a 19th-century German play became a 21st-century rock musical. deliberately anachronistic score and its depictions of sex.

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