Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: Spring Awakening Musical (Blank Theatre Company)

There is good news and there is bad news about the inaugural production of the Blank Theater Company.

The good news is that their first show, Spring Awakening, (playing through September 30 at the Frontier Theatre in Edgewater) is beautifully performed, choreographed, and directed in an intimate blackbox theatre that showcases the excellence of some promising young actors.

The bad news (at least for you) is that every remaining seat of their next set of shows is completely sold out (and they don't have the ability to extend.)  There is a waiting list, and you should get on it. Pronto.

My wife and I attended the show as a date night.

The play has extra meaning for us, because we saw it on Broadway in New York, with Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff in it, before they were television stars and household names.  While I knew the theatre was small (approximately 50 seats), and I was expecting it to be good, I really had no inkling that the performers would shine so brightly.

Get the Broadway Soundtrack to
Spring Awakening  on Amazon


The play itself is a musical adaptation of Franz Wedekind's first play, written in 1891, and first performed in 1906 in Berlin.  The show, set in a 19nth century German school, is about sexual repression and tension and both the rise of sexual desire (hence awakening) and the lack of knowledge that kids have about sex and their own bodies.    In today's snapchat, bikini-wearing, pornhub universe, these teenagers seem unspeakably naive and unknowledgable.

A great scene is the opening one, where Wendla, a young girl appears before her mother in a short skirt that she has outgrown.  Her mom complains that she should put on more proper clothes.  Wendla says, "But this dress makes me feel like a fairy princess among the flowers.  The mother says, "You are in full bloom, dear."  She later demands to know where babies come from, and her mom tells her a man and a woman have to love one another.  This serves her in poor stead later when [SPOILER ALERT!] she has sex with the main character Melchior, gets pregnant, and then dies from a botched abortion (or in German code, anemia.)
Wendla (Haley Bolithon) comforts Melchior (Jeremiah Alsop) photo by Nick McKenzie

There are many great performances in this show, with special shoutouts to Jeremiah Alsop as Melchior and Sam Shankman as Moritz.  Moritz is a D student on the verge of failing his classes who is so addled by his thoughts of girls and breasts that he can't concentrate on the classics, and Melchior is a young brilliant intellectual who knows more about sex than all his classmates combined, but has no practical knowledge to back it up.  These young men have great chemistry as friends, and both of them bring great intensity to their work that makes a lot of their stage time mesmerizing.

Herr Knochenbruch (Mike Weaver) and Fraulein Knuppeldick (Lisa Savegnago) question Melchior (Jeremiah Alsop)
about the author of an inappropriate essay.  Photo by Nick McKenzie
 Also great were the adults (who played all of the parents and teachers) Mike Weaver and Lisa Savegnago.  They bring a great priggishness to the show and unwittingly set up a lot of the tragedy that occurs during the show.  They play a lot of characters and do a good job differentiating them.  I also want to shout out Haley Bolithon as Wendla and Claire Latourrette as Ilsa, both of whom do great justice to their characters.  I have called out these people, but the whole cast was top-notch.  There was an understudy on the night we saw the show (I know, understudies in a 50 seat theatre!) and I truly couldn't tell who it was.
Ilse (Claire Latourette) surprises Moritz (Sam Shankman)  photo by Nick McKenzie.

The set design was simple, as were the music orchestrations, played by a company of 4. They are constantly present, but not part of the scene.  (At one point I got a little thrown off, because the drummer seemed to be asleep, although I am pretty sure that they just had their eyes closed and were concentrating.)  But I started to wonder....

I also need to point out the choreography, which is avant-garde but filled with appropriate tics and sudden movements.  The choreography from the original show as by Bill T. Jones, and I remember thinking it was amazing how the avant-garde has become commercial.
The cast of Spring Awakening sings "Touch Me."  You can see some of the choreography here.  photo by Nick McKenzie


See on Amazon.

There is a lot of tragedy in the show, including a suicide, a botched death, an expulsion, bullying, etc.  Somehow, they manage to end the show on a promise of hope rather than in the tragedy of youth.  It's a good message, and especially timely for today's era of #metoo, #itgetsbetter, and #grabherbythepussy.

I spoke briefly to the director after the show, who said that they would explore the possibility of a remount or an extension if they could, but they are also focusing on their next show, Blackbird by David Harrower, which will come out Spring 2019. If you want to find out more, or to support his new theatre company, visit them online at

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