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Spring Awakening

“Spring Awakening/Frühlings Erwachen” Frank Wedekind’s then-scandalous 1891 drama about German teenagers and the rigid and puritanical society that destroys some of them, was banned for some years after its completion.  The original play is subtitled “A Children’s Tragedy,” which is most certainly is, although it deals with teens.  Wedekind attacked the sexually-oppressive – and thus its logical follow-up, sexually-obsessed – culture of, essentially, the entire Western world.  He had the distinction of being banned or at least disemboweled in the U.K. and U.S.A. for the next seventy years.

Five years ago, a New York musical version swept the Tony’s and has successfully toured since then.  Now the first Los Angeles intimate-theatre debut is at the cramped Egyptian Arena Theatre in Hollywood.  As directed by Kate Sullivan, the musical features book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, with quality choreography by Laura Harrison and superb musical direction by Rachael Lawrence.

In the local school, segregated by gender, the boys and girls lead frustrated lives, ignorant of the basics of sex, just as their hormones are kicking into high gear, leading to dreadful peer-misinformation coupled with a lack of formal teaching on the subject. 

Melchior (Mat Vairo) loves Wendla (Lindsay Pearce).  A declared atheist, he has learned the mechanics of sex and tries to help his friend Moritz (Chase Williamson), who is tormented by his sexualized dreams and fantasies.  Ilsa has fled this suffocating atmosphere to go live “das Künstlerleben” with painters, Wendla desperately wants to know where babies come from and why her body is suddenly betraying her, but her mother is so horrified by the discussion that she merely talks about men, love, and marriage, inconveniently leaving out the biological imperative.  And Hanschen (Matt Magnusson) and Ernst (Christopher Higgins) find each other.

The adaptation into a musical has been done well, with Sater using a lot of the original dialogue (one of the Tonys went to his work) and the score, a strong punk-pop sound, has the actors speaking softly and whipping out mics and singing lustily into them, merging the original play’s sensibilities with contemporary sound.  It is very much a young person’s musical and should attract them.

If there is any particular problem I found with all this, was that in an under-100-seat house, we have difficulty hearing the actors, even with mics – that is bizarre, so that some of the intimate dialogue was kept onstage and not projected out to us.  The songs, on the other hands, were loud and propulsive.

This is an incredibly talented cast, beginning with Vairo, Pearce and Williamson.  The two “adult” actors, playing all the post-40 characters (Kelly Lester and David Carey Foster) were spot-on, especially Lester’s singing.  The entire cast delivered (you have to wonder how fantastic the auditions must have been), in all three areas of acting, singing, dancing.  And the music direction of Ms. Lawrence (on piano as well as conducting) kept the pace and the liveliness on target. 

This is an excellent (albeit crowded) production of a still-timely subject (just listen to the rightwing-nut politicos in this year’s election cycle to see how much has not changed for some in relation to sexuality and youth).  Sullivan’s sure hand with her young flock shows solid knowledge of musical theatre and it should do very well for the producers.

Through April 22nd, 2012, at the Theatre of Arts Egyptian Arena Stage, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood, 90028. Tickets: 310.903.6150 or at or