Dallas — A strong singing and acting ensemble delivers the rich score and wrenching dramatic story of Spring Awakening, in Uptown Players heartfelt and haunting production at Moody Performance Hall.
The melancholy musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, which won eight Tony Awards in its Broadway debut in 2007, is based on the late 19th century, controversial drama by German playwright Frank Wedekind about the sexual and emotional repression of small-town German adolescents in an age of tense sexual repression. The musical stays close to the plot of the early play, which focuses on two young men and one young girl as they awaken to the power of their own sexuality.
The score is a combination of soulful pop, angst-driven rock, and melancholy ballads, with musical direction by Isaac Leaverton, conducting an eight-member orchestra seated on the stage. Bart McGeehon's minimal set design features a wooden platform and chairs used to create scenes and also as props in a slam-bang dance number, "The Bitch of Living", staged by director/choreographer Jeremy Dumont.
The diverse 14-member cast is outfitted in richly textured 19th century schoolboy uniforms for males and somber colored period dresses for women, designed by Suzi Cranford and Jessie Chavez.
From the opening song, "Mama Who Bore Me," sung with pleading innocence by Theresa Kellar as Wendla, all the young adolescents are asking questions about their own dreams and bodies. In the classroom, Melchior (handsome tenor Quinn Moran) challenges the status quo in a forceful rendition of "All That's Known.”
All the teenagers in the town must figure out what is going on in their bodies from the odd text and teasing misinformation of their schoolmates. For the most part, all the young people are coerced and threatened by a series of bullying teachers, willfully blind and relentlessly demanding parents—and in some cases, outright sexual abuse, all kept quiet in these respectable households. A resourceful Bill Jenkins plays all the adult men, from the baleful teacher who appears to loathe his students, to an abusive father, demanding silence from his helpless daughter. Marianne Galloway, bustled as a terrifying schoolmarm or letting her hair down as a seductive mother, is all the repressed and rigid women of 19th century nightmares.
Amazingly, these grievous crimes committed against young people are the dark ground of a show that is also about the energy and thrill of first desires—and the spontaneity of friendship and first love. "Touch Me," a song about reaching out for love is sung by the male and female ensemble with rapturous yearning. Somehow, love grows despite the hypocrisy and meanness of repressed small-town elders, constantly watching them and thwarting their quest for sexual knowledge and the deeper love they also seek.
Sometimes their anger breaks into furious action. In "Totally Fucked," the whole ensemble stomps straight up to the edge of the stage, shouting and twitching in a burst of hormonal explosion.
Moran, a strong tenor with falsetto capability, is a youthful and virile Melchior, the star scholar at school. Moran's smarty-pants Melchior is also the most resourceful in finding clear technical descriptions of the sex act, while remaining blind to the ramifications of this powerful new desire that drives him.
Kellar sounds like an inquisitive angel as the lovely and childlike Wendla, the girl who loves Melchior with all her innocence and surrender. Their lovemaking in the partial nudity scene in the play, is made touching and natural, thanks to intimacy coach Ashley H. White. Like the kissing and petting of two young homosexual boys, played with wolfish desire and coy teasing by Collins Rush and Griffin Shoemaker, the sex scenes feel like a happy release following the vicious schoolroom scenes.
Zachary J. Willis is a clear-voiced and miserably unstable Moritz, the lost boy straining to pass his exams and find a friend, whose teachers and father scorn his efforts. When his isolation drives him to desperate measures, a childhood friend (true soprano Abigail Gardner) reaches out to him in a lovely counterpoint duet, "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind," in which she reminds him of playing pirates long ago. Willis is strong throughout, and heartbreakingly touching in the final song when he returns with the sacrificed Wendla and a broken-hearted Melchior to lead the company in “Purple Summer,” a beautiful and deeply evocative song about the vision which is sexual ripeness and joy at its lovely, peaceful prime.
Spring Awakening is definitely not a family musical comedy, with its street language and brutal plot, but this sad story of youthful questing has a vitality and truth to it you won’t want to miss. Certainly, it makes a powerful case for straightforward sex education and kind counseling in our schools and religious institutions.