Spring Awakening is a hot ticket. The latest revival by Deaf West Theatre earned several Tony nominations. In Seattle, we’ve had a touring production and a more recent, well-received production by the dearly missed Balagan Theatre. Spring Awakening’s mix of 19th-century setting, lyrical, antiquated-style text and a contemporary pop score by singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik has captivated audiences since its Broadway debut in 2006 starring Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. How does new-kid-on-the-block theatre company Basement Theatrics’ production fare?
I was impressed by an excellent cast, and was happy that they were cast close to the appropriate age of the characters (high-school age). While a slightly older cast might lend more mature performances, you lose some authenticity. It was wholly believable that these kids were awkward around sex and relationships. There are also two adult performers (Ellen Dessler and Marcus Wolland, both excellent) that lend gravitas as parental and teacher figures as well as offering comic relief.
I don’t understand the choice of the teachers having a German accent when no other character did. Spring Awakening is set in Germany, so some consistency, either no accents (probably easier) or everyone with a similar accent, would make more sense to me. That said, both actors played it to the hilt. Their emphasis of each other’s harshly-pronounced name getting a laugh every time. Having them lecture the audience about cell phone use and Pokemon Go at the beginning was a great touch as well!
Musically, the cast was excellent, with no weak links and a great band backing them up. Michael Krenning as Melchior was a standout, confident in his soaring pop vocals. Jayne Hubbard as Wendla was wholly believable as an innocent (who should have been more carefully taught). I enjoyed Tyler Rogers’ arrogant gay character (with very tight shorts) and Marshall Link was an appropriately angst-ridden Moritz.
The staging was simple and effective, with a single tree on the stage as the only major set piece. Spring Awakening is a perfect show for a black box theatre (12th Avenue Arts), allowing you to easily get involved in the play’s intimate themes. A handful of chairs move around from the front of the audience to the stage, serving as set pieces for classroom, home and outdoor scenes, seamless enough to never distract from the story.
Unfortunately, there were significant sound issues that affected my enjoyment of the performance. Nearly half of the songs in Act One were affected, with microphone feedback overpowering performers’ voices. I found it difficult to stay involved at times, particularly for (as an example) a heartfelt song with a subtle performance (The Dark I Know Well) but the sound issues made it hard to concentrate on actress Alisa Muench’s strong acting and vocals. There were also some issues with the volume mix between performers and musicians, as well as during ensemble numbers. While this issue improved in Act Two, it was still a problem.
That said, this is a brand new company and young cast, in a fairly new space. I’d recommend checking them out for the overall quality of the production. I’m sure the production team were well aware of the issues and are working to fix them, and I’d hate to not recommend a piece solely due to these sorts of technical issues.
Overall, it’s a well-done performance of a show with plenty of relevant themes and catchy songs. I’d recommend seeing what Basement Theatrics has to offer.
Spring Awakening runs July 22-July 31, 2016 at 12th Avenue Arts (1620 12th Avenue, Seattle). For tickets ($20 youth and $25 general) and information, please visit basementtheatrics.org. Tickets may also be purchased via Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006 or btsa.bpt.me.