‘Spring Awakening’: A change of scene and season

The Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society’s (AUTS) production of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s 2006 musical, Spring Awakening premiered on Jan. 24 at Moyse Hall. Directed by Kyra Church (Concordia BA) and adapted from the 1891 Frank Wedekind play of the same name, Spring Awakening is a coming-of-age tale that follows the lives of young teenagers in late 19th-century Germany as they uncover realities about themselves, their peers and the world around them.

The musical begins as one of the central characters, Wendla (Leah DeBorba U0 Arts) asks her mother the age-old question: “Where do babies come from?” Fearful of divulging too much too soon to her young daughter, Wendla’s mother (Julia Kennific) refuses to answer, intent on keeping Wendla’s innocence intact. Curiosity gets the better of Wendla, however, and what follows is a familiar and heartbreaking account of the trials of adolescence.

The characters in Spring Awakening are all navigating puberty and its accompanying anxieties in an era when traditional values discourage them from exploring their curiosities and desires freely and safely. Wendla isn’t the only one searching for answers; her peers, too, are all puzzled by new experiences and feelings. When Wendla and her friends meet Melchoir (Natan Saviv U0), a well-read and mature classmate, they gain the courage to explore their feelings and learn more about themselves.

Discovery, coming of age, and sexuality are all central themes of Spring Awakening. Notable performances by DeBorba and Eric Wakim (Concordia BFA) as lovable but nervous Moritz highlight these ideas and anchor the ensemble. Their stunning vocals convey pure emotion, which makes for captivating musical numbers, specifically in “Touch Me.” The brilliant instrumentation, conducted by musical director Ben Barton Creelman (M1 Music) adds depth to the songs and heightens the emotions of the characters while complementing the cast’s outstanding vocals.

Wendla’s close friend Marta (Devin Sunar U2 Arts) gives a heartbreaking performance that balances precocity with  innocent youthfulness. During “The Dark I Know Well,” Marta reveals to her friends that she has dealt with abuse for years. She is then accompanied by a close friend, Ilse (Meera Raman), who shares that she has endured similar experiences. This number stands out, offering a particularly poignant portrayal of the effects of trauma.   

The simple stage design allows for the actors to make full use of their space, best demonstrated in the various dance sequences. Although the staging is effective, the young girls’ costumes—reflecting different styles and time-periods—are somewhat distracting considering that the rest of the costuming is indicative of the late 19th century time frame.

Jeffrey D’Ambrosio’s (U1 Arts) stunning light direction brings the show to life, particularly in the penultimate scene as the cast joins in unison to sing “Song of Purple Summer.” As the front lights turn off, only the silhouettes of the cast remain backlit with a violet light that creates a mystical atmosphere.

Although Spring Awakening is set over a century ago, the characters’ stories of sexual assault and abuse feel strikingly contemporary. The musical cements itself as an impactful piece of theatre by portraying an important story that continues to be relevant to this day.  

Spring Awakening runs Jan. 31 and Feb. 1-2 at 7:30 p.m. at Moyse Hall (853 Sherbrooke St W). Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for the general public and can be purchased online at autstheatre.ca or at the door.

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