Spring Awakening by Company C, October 21-November 2, 2014. A review.

Spring Awakening by Company C, October 21-November 2, 2014. Presented at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria BC.

Edgy and frank, with catchy and raw tunes that remain days later, Spring Awakening (the current Company C/Canadian College of Performing Arts production at the Belfry Theatre October 21-November 2, 2014) takes us back in an instant to the chaotic days of our adolescence.

Based on Frank Wedekind’s scandalous (and later banned) 1890 play of the same name about the lives of German teenagers, the arc of the original has been re-worked by Stephen Sater (book and lyrics) with music by Duncan Sheik.  The project was six years in development, and garnered eight Tony awards at its debut in 2007.

Spring Awakening (directed by Michael Shamata) represents a substantial jump for the Canadian College of Performing Arts 3rd year program, Company C, one which would not be possible without the considerable support of the Belfry Theatre.  Every season, after two years of training, these young students at the cusp of their professional careers constitute a company and produce three shows over a period of 4 months (this year they are Spring Awakening, Sense and Sensibility directed by Glynis Leyshon in December at St Ann’s Academy, and 6 Characters in Search of an Author directed by James Fagan Tait in January at the CCPA Performance Hall).  During this time they are responsible for all aspects of the productions—marketing, design, choreography, sound, lighting, construction, performing.  It’s a formidable task and anyone who has attended shows in the past will know that the quality is consistently high.

There is however, a certain advantage to this collaboration with the Belfry Theatre which is evident from the moment you step into the smaller Studio A space—a black box theatre with seating for 100.  While remaining intimate, the set (Michael Shamata) is dominated by three massive elements—stage right, towering library shelves crammed with tomes and centre stage a decaying painted brick wall and enormous expressionistic painting.  The musicians are located to the back. A large wedge-shaped moveable riser was the most versatile piece of staging. The scene is completed with a settee to the side, and several chairs scattered about.

_DSC7645Amanda Lisman (Adult Women), Austin Eckert (Moritz), Richard Hurst (Adult Men). Photo: David Lowes

Audience members unfamiliar with the story will immediately be intrigued by the period costumes (Amy King & Ursina Luther) juxtaposed with rock music and explicit lyrics (Bitch of Living, Totally Fucked, My Junk).  A century after being written, Wedekind’s oeuvre has lost none of its relevancy. Teens still struggle to come to grips with burgeoning urges and desires, and push back against the mores of their elders and society.  Abuse, while perhaps not so quietly hidden, exists.  And who doesn’t remember endless days at school, striving to complete assignments on time, trying to please parents and teachers while railing against authority.

Under the sure and delicate direction of Michael Shamata, the ensemble tackles the subject matter and challenging score with confidence and aplomb. While the very structure of the play and musical dictate that there are main characters (Ian Crowe as Melchior, Siobhan Barker as Wendla, Austin Eckert as Moritz), every one of the roles was well-rounded. From a vocal perspective, I particularly noticed Kirsti Hack as Ilse in Blue Wind.  Nick Heffelfinger provided comedic relief as Hanschen while Colleen Maguire (Anna) always draws my attention with her bright visage.

_DSC8078Siobhan Barker (Wendla), Ian Crowe (Melchior), and Austin Eckert (Moritz). Photo: David Lowes

Seduction scenes are treated with great care—Crowe and Barker, and Heffelfinger and Jesse Nagraeff (Ernst) imbue their love with tenderness, awe and a gentle awkwardness (The Word of Your Body and reprise)

There is great dramatic tension between the spoken and sung; between alt-rock numbers and sweet ballads; between youth and adults (Richard Hurst and Amanda Lisman play all the adult roles).

Choreographer Laura Krewski utilizes every inch of the space to create compelling visual images that range from tender (Touch Me, Song of Purple Summer) to furious (Bitch of Living, Totally Fucked). Music, under the direction of Heather Burns, was tight and professional. Victoria audiences are fortunate to have musicians (Tom Bowler, Jon Eng, Joey Smith, Alexa MacDougall) of high calibre available for projects of this nature. Lighting (R.J. Peters) was particularly evocative in the graveyard scene and for ever-hopeful finale (Purple Summer), and intrigued me throughout as it played across the surface of the painting, sometimes in shade, often highlighted.

Haunting melodies (Momma Who Bore Me, The Dark I Know Well) hint at the attitudes of the time, some of which have changed little in the intervening century. Preachers still thunder, parents still scold, teachers still prone. Every generation believes it is the first.

Wedekind’s seminal work in the history of theatre was an indictment of the then-current moral code which, as Sater states, has “managed to rise again” making Spring Awakening a very compelling musical to see and ponder.

Spring Awakening, directed by Michael Shamata
Presented by Company C, the Canadian College of Performing Arts
Belfry Theatre, Studio A
October 21-November 2, 2014
Tickets $28.50. Seniors $10% off. Students %25 off

For tickets and ticket information, contact the Belfry Box Office at 250-385-6815 or visit their website at boy.bc.ca

Disclaimer: I was graciously provided with a complimentary ticket to Spring Awakening.


Spring Awakening the play (synopsis) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_Awakening_%28play%29
Spring Awakening the musical (songs and lyrics) http://www.metrolyrics.com/spring-awakening-overview.html
Spring Awakening the musical (synopsis) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_Awakening
Article by Stephen Sater (American Theatre) http://www.tcg.org/publications/at/julyaugust07/spring.cfm
Interview with Duncan Sheik (American Theatre) http://www.tcg.org/publications/at/mayjune06/sheik.cfm
Purple Summer: notes on the Lyrics of Spring Awakening http://www.amazon.ca/Purple-Summer-Lyrics-Spring-Awakening/dp/1557838240
Spring Awakening (original text) available as an e-book http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35242

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