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‘Spring Awakening’ touches on mature themes with finesse
MICHAEL C. UPTON
Record Express Correspondent
A handsome crowd filled EPAC’s Sheridan Bigler Theater last Thursday for the premier of “Spring Awakening.” In a move bringing Broadway and the Ephrata stage full circle, Artistic Director Ed Fernandez and EPAC’s board of directors present the “for mature audiences only” musical now through Nov. 10.
When “Spring Awakening” blew up with popularity on Broadway, the show featured area native Jonathan Groff, who graced the EPAC stage before, most notably with a command performance in “Batboy.” Groff has moved onto starring in major motion pictures and popular television shows and “Spring Awakening” has come to Ephrata.
“Spring Awakening” is the coming of age tale of a group of adolescents and touches on a multitude of subjects these teens struggle to deal with in an oppressive 19th century: sex, rape, homosexuality, child abuse and suicide. The show is definitely for mature audiences as it includes nudity and language some may find offensive — not me. Based on the play of the same name, the musical “Spring Awakening” features music written by pop singer /songwriter Duncan Sheik and is at times downright rocking. Big music numbers filled the theater and set the tone of the story. It was easy to be immediately transported from Lancaster County to another time in Germany when the mere utterance of a sexual subject could bring shame upon a family.
The story tells the tale of Melchior (played by Josh Kirwin), a free-thinking young man who falls in love with Wendla (played by Kate-Lynn Scheib). This is not Scheib’s first time playing Wendla and her experience and skill shines. The Penn State sophomore has played Wendla twice before and her vocal ability entrances the audience. The biggest siren on the stage is Amy Ward who played Ilse, a beautiful girl who has parted ways with her family and returns to visit her friends. Her voice is commanding and beautiful and if it were not for Sheib’s experience with the role of Wendla, I imagine Ward would hold the lead role. Stealing the show is Vince Fazzolari who plays Moritz, Melchior’s best friend. Comedic at times, Fazzolari summons the awkwardness of Cosmo Kramer mixed with manic anxiety and nervousness. His moments of despair are dark, heart wrenching, and infuriating; Fazzolari’s abilities are masterful.
Less than main characters tell other tales. During an uproarious confession of love, Hanschen (played by Quinn Corcoran) seduces the young and confused Ernst (played by Peter Ferraiolo). Madison Buck, playing Martha, joins Ward in singing “The Dark I Know Well,” a ballad of horrific child abuse. I’m not sure if it was an artistic decision or a lack of participating actors for “Spring Awakening,” but the roles of many small parts were played by two people, Adult Woman (Susan Barber) and Adult Man (Larry Gessler). Gessler’s and Barber’s stellar performances were veiled as I tried to discern which character they were playing. Several times I could barely tell who was who as Barber played a piano teacher, Wendla’s mother, Melchior’s mother, and a headmistress, all with no costume changes and little divergence of character traits.
Technically, opening night was hit and miss. The lighting crew did a masterful job of incorporating a rock star atmosphere during the hot music numbers and set a stunning mood for the show’s powerful apex when Melchior and Wendla engage. Poor Otto (played by Ethan Shearer); if his microphone was not on it was on full blast crippling the eardrums of theatergoers. I’m sure the sound crew will work out the issues after opening night.
Music Director J. P. Meyer had no problems with his orchestra “pit.” I put pit in parenthesis because in “Spring Awakening” the band is lifted above the stage and becomes just as much part of the show as some of the actors. To my ears, never was a beat missed nor a note gone sour. The ensemble (Lauren Adkins, Christina Rivera, Austin Trynosky, and Alex Weaver) did an awesome job as background singers helping to move the story along.
With its heavy subject matter, “Spring Awakening” is a complex tale passing through moments of absolute merriment and leaves viewers as stunned, wounded and confused as the teens on the stage. EPAC has provided the area with a rousing rendition of a current, thought provoking hit and I expect seats to be filled at every show. There are people who will not like “Spring Awakening” due to its controversial nature, but this musical is theater that must be made.
In an effort to make readers aware of how rough “Spring Awakening” may be, I hope I have not left a negative tone. EPAC’s “Spring Awakening” is dazzling and brilliant. I congratulate Fernandez and all of the EPAC community for bringing this work to Ephrata, job well done.