The musical "Spring Awakening" is a moving, infectiously real look into the raw and conflicting emotions of puberty. It is not for the faint of heart. It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you think. And, it will make you feel.
"Spring Awakening" premiered on Broadway in 2006 and won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, and received a Broadway revival in 2015 that earned three Tony Award nominations. Based on an 1891 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, "Spring Awakening" features book and lyrics by Steven Sater, and music by Duncan Sheik.
A new production in The Black Box Theater at McHenry County College lives up to the pedigree of high praise its Broadway predecessors earned.
Set in Germany in the 1890s, "Spring Awakening" focuses on a group of teenage students as their bodies begin to change and new desires awaken within them that they struggle to understand. They are boys and girls in the bodies of young men and women.
At the center of the story are three characters: Wendla, Mortiz and Melchior.
Wendla is a young girl entering into womanhood who wants to know where babies come from. Her mother thinks by not telling her the facts of life, Wendla will stay free of temptation. In her mother’s mind, if Wendla doesn’t understand sexuality, she will stay pure until marriage.
Moritz is a student struggling to keep up with his peers. Like Wendla and the other students, Moritz is confused about the changes going on in his body, as well as panicked about what will happen if he should fail in school.
Melchior is a rebellious yet highly intelligent student. Unlike Moritz, studies come easy to Melchior. And, like Wendla, Melchior is searching for a way to feel and to connect.
As Wendla, Angelina Straus is incredibly compelling. She believably captures the emotions of a pubescent teen in the 19th century. It is a strong and moving performance.
Moritz is well played by Liam Bell, who infuses just the right amount of confusion and desperation into his character. Bell makes you feel his pain and conflicting emotions.
Ethan Sherman is a handsome young man with a strong voice who always has turned in respectable performances. As Melchior, Sherman ascends to a new level of emotional delivery and depth of character. His performance is magnificent.
Some thanks for the breakout performances by Straus, Bell and Sherman must go to director Jay Geller who always demonstrates a clear artistic vision and can pull the best out of his performers. Likewise, credit also must go to the supporting ensemble who give these three the tapestry upon which to create magic.
Among the ensemble, Derrick Wilson and Lara Bell stand out as Hanschen and Ilse, respectively. Both actors bring great depth to their characters. Ilse is a homeless teen who has been put out on the streets by her parents. Hanschen is engulfed in pubescent urges that pull him in many directions.
Other students in the musical are played by Kiara Carey, Teagan Anderson, Peri Sindberg, Matthew Stewart, Jackson Nielsen and Dan Cosgray.
In an interesting story device, all of the adult male roles are played by Alex Fayer and all the adult female roles are played by Julie Billimack. Their ability to create multiple distinct characters is impressive.
There are many brilliant moments in Spring Awakening. The most emotionally charged scene in the play is between Mortiz and his unforgiving father – a testament to the acting of Bell and Fayer.
There is a great deal of sexuality, mature themes and adult language in "Spring Awakening." So be warned it is not for children or those with more prudent tastes.
Choreography by Maggie McCord adds just enough accent and movement to the show to keep it speeding towards its climax in an entertaining way. Similarly, music director Michael Hillstrom does a fine job of bringing the best out of his singers and off-stage orchestra. Fight choreographer Bill Daniel and costumer Kathy Bruhnke also deserve recognition.
Corrosion of the soul that comes with the loss of innocence is never without sorrow, pain and loss. "Spring Awakening" brings this loss out of the shadows and puts it center stage. See this show, and you will be moved.
Spring Awakening runs Nov. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 at The Black Box Theater at McHenry County College, 8900 Route 14, Building E, Crystal Lake. Performances begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students, MCC employees, seniors, MCC alumni and veterans and $20 for the general public. For ticket reservations, call 815-455-8746 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets may be bought at the door.
• Rikki Lee Travolta has headlined and directed theatrical productions around the country. He has written two novels and a memoir, all revolving around the entertainment world. He currently hosts a popular weekly radio program It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee every Friday at 3 p.m. on 101.5 FM. Rikki Lee also is the founder of It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley and continues to serve on the Advisory Committee. He can next be seen in the film The Lurker opposite Scout Taylor-Compton and Michael Emery. For information, visit RikkiLeeTravolta.com.