Growing up was never easy

`Spring Awakening' brings painful past to life

Courtesy photo
Heather Doris plays Wendla Bergman and Casey Andree portrays Melchior Gabor in “Spring Awakening” at Town Hall Arts Center.
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A blocky, stepped-up wooden stage is backed by a row of bare trees. Tree shadows are painted on the stage floor. Behind the trees is a row of seats for Donna Debreceni and her five excellent musicians, who add depth and tone to the fine production of “Spring Awakening” at Town Hall Arts Center.

Sensitively and skillfully directed and choreographed by Nick Sugar, “Spring Awakening,” the winner of eight Tony Awards in 2006, tells a sad coming-of-age story, based on a controversial play written in 1891 in Germany by Frank Wedenkind.

Sugar comments in his director's notes that this musical, by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, has “become the new anthems for every young actor, just as the songs from `Hair,' `Tommy' and `RENT' did in generations past.”

Adolescents are tightly restricted by society as their bodies discover desire, while they are kept ignorant of anything about sexual issues and how to manage them.

Against a background of rigid schooling for young men, intelligent Melchior Gabor (Casey Andree) rebels and questions in and out of the schoolroom even as he memorizes and recites the required Latin verses.

Distracted Moritz Stiefel (talented newcomer Jake Brasch) who asks his intellectual friend, Melchior, to write up a brief sexual manual — with illustrations — has trouble memorizing, as he deals with raging hormones.

Strict teacher Scott McClean, who plays all the adult men, is totally unsympathetic as he drills his students and singles out Moritz as one more student than the school can hold.

Sweet, innocent Wendla Bergmann (Heather Doris) begs her mother to explain how babies are made, when her sister bears a new little girl — she's sure the stork story isn't right. Her mother, played by Margie Lamb, who plays all the adult woman parts, can only answer “she must love her husband …”

Throughout the performance, the strong cast moves in and out of the scene, precisely choreographed by Sugar and dramatically lighted by Seth Alison.

Linda Morken's costumes are especially effective and detailed, including the schoolboy suits with knickers and ankle-high boots and prim calico dresses.

The play addresses a botched abortion, a girl abused by her father, an anxiety-ridden boy whose parents are unable to forgive failure in school, a girl who is kicked out by her parents — all too similar to stories we hear regularly in today's news. Perhaps some are able to discuss more freely a century and more later — but not all.

This is a beautifully staged production, with a strong score, talented cast and knockout band. It does manage to offend some in the audience because of content and language.
We were delighted to see a large class of teens — presumably drama students — in the audience. It's their show.

If you go:

“Spring Awakening” plays through May 4 at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St., Littleton. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $20-$40, 303-794-2787 ext 5; TownHallArtsCenter.com.