Brian Jacobson

Spring Awakening at the Marcus Center

By - Oct 7th, 2009 09:06 am

Spring AwakeningIt is safe to say that anyone who can still get tickets to the short run of Spring Awakening at the Marcus Center should jump at the opportunity. This musical is vibrant, showy, rebellious and perhaps unlike anything the regular theatergoer has seen before.

What is funny is how the Milwaukee audience received it. When characters swore or expressed their sexuality there was a general silent appreciation. It was only when two male characters kissed, or when a bare breast — as if part of a Botticelli painting — is exposed onstage that the crowd gasped a little.

It’s been a long time since the sexually repressive 1890s, the setting of Awakening; yet, even now there are some proclivities within this show that reveal our remaining discomfort and shame. This 2007 Best Musical has been called “the Rent of our generation.” If that’s true, then the message here is that the Millennials have been sheltered in a way that may have caused harm to their natural sense of discovery.

springsingingThis production is in many ways a standard rock opera. The music, penned by indie rocker Duncan Sheik, often sounded like classic Sheik songs, in the same way, Billy Elliot: the Musical sounds like an Elton John score or Disney’s Tarzan sounds like Phil Collins was the composer (and, they both were.) There were plenty of moments with uplifted voices and harmonies as expected from a modern musical, but there was plenty of Green Day in Awakening as well.

The extraordinary choreography by Bill T. Jones helped the audience to forget that dancing and fluid stage direction were at its core. The backdrop was a faux brick wall decorated with neon-colored lights that provided a brilliant effect.

wendlamelchiorhandEvery member of this newly formed touring group mesmerized the audience. Jake Epstein is a strong Melchior. Taylor Trensch is believably tormented as Moritz, and even the thankless and multiple parent/teacher roles portrayed by Sarah Hunt and John Wojda rise above the off-screen ‘wahwah’ cartoonish Peanuts adults they could have been. Steffi D. as Ilse was also a real standout with an often brief but entrancing singing and acting style.

Only a few prolonged moments fell flat; they would have been better suited for intimate movie camera shots. Additionally, the soundboard level for this show in Uihlein Hall left a little to be desired, too. Invisible mikes the cast wore were often too quiet; it’s only when stick mikes were handed out for the rock-and-roll asides and soliloquies that the audio improved. As a friend noted, when he saw Wicked in Chicago the audio level shook the seats. This Milwaukee venue could’ve used a little goosebump-raising vibration.

Nevertheless, everyone from the cast to the onstage musicians contributed to a communal experience that truly felt like teenagers attempting to communicate with adults in modern voices. Even with no real happy ending, these actors in Spring Awakening need to bask in the appreciative glow and standing ovation they received from the Milwaukee audience. Our town doesn’t get to see something like this too often.

For show times and ticketing information, contact the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts box office at 414-273-7121 or visit the website for details.

0 thoughts on “Review: Spring Awakening at the Marcus Center”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Considering this was written in the late 1800’s the author was way ahead of his time in subject matter. The musical itself was very well done and thought provoking. The stage while sparse was made dramatic by the excellent lighting.

    It’s sad that the same issues that teens were grappling with in the 1800’s (the good old days), sexuality, homosexuality, incest, etc., are still isssues that they are dealing with today, often without the proper adult guidance.

    I left wondering how many in the audience (all adults), would feel any more comfortable talking with their kids, nieces, and nephews about the isssues brought up in Spring Awakeining.

    Highly Recommended, especially for adults who have pre-teen or teenage children.

  2. Anonymous says:

    For future reference, Angela Reed, not Sarah Hunt, plays the adult female alongside John Wojda. (Sarah is plays Martha, the abused girl).
    This shows is truly a work of art. The contrasts between the 19th Century story and the 21st century music are unusual, but, in my opinion, make the message of the story even more potent. I would thoroughly recommend this show to anyone who currently a teenager, or who has ever been a teenager.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Not sure which show you were at…but I was there opening night, and there wasn’t a standing ovation. Maybe the first few rows that could actually understand what was being said with the horrible acoustics that night. But there certainly wasn’t anyone standing in the balconies until they got up to leave.

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