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Review: Henegar Center’s “Spring Awakening”

Henegar Center's "Spring Awakening"

Henegar Center’s “Spring Awakening”

By Pam Harbaugh

There is real theater art happening right now on the second floor of the Henegar Center. It’s the intimate and stirring production of “Spring Awakening.”

Based on the late 19th century drama by German playwright Frank Wedekind, the rock musical “Spring Awakening” is set in a small, provincial German town in the 1890s. The story line explores teenagers bursting with hormones. But the oppressive society in which they live turn deaf ears to the teens’ questions and blind eyes to their ripening human need to be loved and touched.

The plot brings out stories of various teens: A couple fall in love and lose their virginity to each other; a young boy failing at school is beaten by his father; two girls are sexually abused by their own fathers; two gay teens explore the attraction they have for one another. Add to this issues of teenage suicide and abortion. Yes, these stories are common, melodramatic in fact. You’ve seen them before in a host of B-movies.

But what brings these into sharp contemporary, resonating focus are the Tony Award winning music and libretto created by Duncan Sheik and Steve Sater. Here, the plaintive musical cries from angst-driven characters and angry refrains from pounding choruses form an exciting rock score vividly embraced by teens and 20-somethings. And, yes, understood by anyone who has courage to dust off their memories and hearken back to a time that seems nicest from a distance.

Vocal director Kaimi Lucker and conductor Kevin McNaughton tear into this score with confidence.

The excitement begins with “Mama Who Bore Me,” sung with yearning and passion by talented Marissa Williams as Wendla.

Opposite her is handsome Austin Nolder as Melchior, the bright young student who appears to be at the helm of his own future. Mr. Nolder and Ms. Williams bring fireworks to the stage in their roles. They make themselves vulnerable, and because of that, allow some deep, honest portrayals to emerge.

Tyler Pirrung captivates as Moritz, the likeable young man with sexual fantasies and fears about failing school. Mr. Pirrung, who has a fine singing voice, imbues his portrayal with depth of feeling and thoughtful interpretation.

David McQuillen Robertson and Keenan Carver are first rate as a pair of gay teens falling for one another. Rachel Calavetta and A’riel Tinter bring chilling emotion to “The Dark I Know Well,” in which two girls reveal the horrors of their homelife.

As the Adult Man and the Adult Woman, Adam Lucker and Sandra Dee Russell take on multiple roles and serve as the perfect oppressive counterpoints to the teenagers.

Indeed, the entire talented cast remain in the driver seat of your heart and soul for nearly two hours.

Director Hank Rion has done a masterful job eliciting beautifully crafted portrayals of the teens. Mr. Rion moves the show with pin-point precision and grace. He attacks this show with the courage to do it right. The scenes in which the characters explore their sexuality are honest, tender and human. (Well, you might not want to call the masturbation scene “tender,” but you can call it humorous.)

Many kudos to choreographer Amanda Manis who has created fresh, inventive work here. The raw power in the dance and stylized movement exhilarates. We want to see more of her work on our stages.

Brevard feels primed for this brave new theater. Indeed, just walking into the Henegar’s newly re-imagined second-floor studio theater, you know you are in for an experience unique for this area’s community theater scene. And with “Spring Awakening,” that’s what you get.

See a video of cast and audience talking about opening night by clicking here.

Photo by Dana Niemeier.

SIDE O’ GRITS: “Spring Awakening” runs through Aug. 11 with curtain 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The Henegar Center for the Arts is at 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $20 general and $15 seniors. Handling fees are $1 at the door and $2.50 online. Call 321-723-8698 or visit www.henegar.org.