First New York Regional Revival of Spring Awakening

My wife and I love the musical Spring Awakening.  We saw it on Broadway the night after it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.  We were sitting across the aisle from Duncan Sheik, who wrote the awesome music/orchestrations.  We, along with the rest of the audience, were amazed by the energy and brilliance of the performances that night.  We will never forget seeing that cast -- Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff, John Gallagher, Jr., and of course the amazing Lauren Pritchard.  That's a tough show to top.  Yet, when the Harrison Summer Theatre revived the production at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, despite my trepidation, I was thrilled to see an incredible artistic achievement at the highest level of professionalism.

Directed by Jeremy Quinn, the revival had just the right mix of familiarity (from the original version that began Off-Broadway and then ran on Broadway for a terrific but far too short 888 performances and 29 previews) and originality that made the Westchester version a great show in its own right.

The new cast was outstanding -- Lauren Wagner as Wendla, Michael Valentine as Melchior, Travis McClung as Moritz and Triona O'Callaghan as Ilse.  The supporting cast were all great, with amazing voices and wonderful acting: Maggie Thompson, Natalia Fogarty, Annie Nelson, Sydney Parra, Dan Kerness, Joe Venice, Thompson B. Crozier, Todd Ritch, Paul Ianniello, George Domenick, Veronica Decker, Michelle Lauto, Shantay Richardson, Stephanie Rubino, Stephanie Savino, Alejandro Funes, Anthony Malchor, Jared Martin, and Nicholas Triosi.

Spring Awakening was ahead of its time when Frank Wedekind wrote it in 1891, and it is as timely as ever now as a modern musical, but maybe it is still ahead of its time, because the issues it touches upon still hit raw nerves.  I've listened to the original cast recording probably hundreds of times, but seeing the story come alive once more on stage is just as powerful as the first time.  It doesn't just tug at your heart, it rips it out of your chest, slams it on the ground, and picks it up again, shoving it back in your body as you gasp for air.   

As Jeremy Quinn writes in the program's Director's Note: "Is a musical version of the play easier to digest? Because there's music involved, is it more palatable for those who have more conservative beliefs?  Does the music and choreography water down the controversy? Or does it just have more of an appeal that enables the story to be told and lessons taught?"

Spring Awakening definitely has lessons to teach and raises some potent questions.  As the director asks: "How well have we educated our children and ourselves?  What do we gain by protecting them from truth?  Why is violence and hatred exhibited in movies and television more acceptable than honesty about sex?"  That last question is one that I have raised a number of times in my media entertainment criticism. 

The Harrison Summer Theatre musical only ran for three performances -- I wish there were more so others could have experienced its artistry.  If it is any indication of the type of season to expect at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, we're in for a real treat as some great shows are coming up: Cats, Lend Me a  Tenor, and The Secret Garden.

I walked out of the exquisite theater in the City Center at White Plains, New York, with the lyrics from one of the show's many great songs still in my head: "On I go to wonder and to learning, name the stars and know their dark returning, I’m calling to know the world’s true yearning, the hunger that a child feels for everything they’re shown. You watch me, just watch me, I’m calling, and one day all will know."  For a musical that includes heartbreaking moments and tragedy, it still leaves me filled with a sense of hope.

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