.Early Bloomers

‘Spring Awakening’ is not your grandma’s teen musical

“Totally fucked.”

That, dear readers, sums up the teen angst expressed via song in Spring Awakening, Marin Musical Theatre Company’s latest offering. It runs at the NTC Playhouse in Novato through March 16.

Based on German playwright Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play that dealt frankly with teenage sexuality, playwright Steven Sater and musician Duncan Sheik collaborated on a musical adaptation in 2006 that took Broadway by storm and received eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

It’s 1891 and the young citizens of a provincial German town are dealing with oblivious and abusive parents and cruel schoolmasters. Wendla (Claudia Shapiro) can’t get her mother to explain the facts of life. Moritz (Tyler Gable), an intense young man stressed out by scholastic pressures, has been having strange dreams and seeks counsel from his thoughtful friend Melchior (Ryan Hook). Melchior shares the knowledge of human sexuality he’s gleaned from books, but Moritz stops him, asking him to write the information down—complete with illustrations. The contents of that pamphlet lead to tragedy for Moritz, Melchior and Wendla.

Wedekind’s treatise against repression wasn’t performed until 15 years after it was written, and then heavily censored when not outright banned. The powers that be weren’t ready for a play that had explicit scenes involving masturbation (lots of masturbation), child abuse, sado-masochism, suicide and sex of a questionably consensual nature.

Director Jenny Boynton has assembled an excellent cast. Hook is outstanding as the inquisitive and rebellious Melchior. Gable is a bit over-the-top as Moritz, but really scores in the character’s quieter, more reflective moments. A health issue led Claudia Shapiro to leave the role of Wendla at intermission on opening night and was replaced by Emily Dwyer. Both were impressive.

Music director Jake Gale and a six-piece band provide excellent support for the vocal work in songs such as “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” “The Word of Your Body” and the aforementioned “Totally Fucked.” There’s some interesting dance work by Daniela Myers and Jennifer Daine, choreographed by Katie Wickes.

MMTC’s Spring Awakening is a terrific production designed to connect with younger, contemporary audiences on their terms, and succeeds, gloriously. Theater-goers expecting a teen musical along the lines of Bye Bye Birdie will be aghast.

Marin Musical Theatre Company’s ‘Spring Awakening’ runs through March 16 at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Ste. C, Novato. Dates and times vary. $27–$50. 800.838.3006. marinmusicals.org.


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