Review: Spring Awakening The Musical

4 star rating
A talented cast from the British Theatre Academy tackle a challenging musical with robust performances and admirable singing, ably describing sensitive and emotional issues.
Spring Awakening The Musical at Stockwell Playhouse

Image: British Theatre Academy



Closes here: Saturday 18 August 2018

Author:
Steven Sater

Composer:
Duncan Sheik

Lyricist:
Steven Sater

Director:
Dean Johnson

Cast:

Melchior - Max Harwood

Wendla - Charlotte Coe

Martha - Sadie Hurst

Ilse - Ginnie Thompson

Moritz - James Knudsen

Ernst - James Dodd

Anna - Elizabeth Rose

Thea - Merel van 't Hooft

Hänschen - Jamie Heward

Georg/ Rupert - Dafydd Lansley

Otto/ Ulbrecht - Kingsley De Costa

Adult male - Joseph Heron

Adult female - Lydia Tuffy

Alternate adult female/ swing - Mia Turner

Mariana Wheelan - Lorren Santo-Quinn

Bobby/ Dieter - Joe Saunders

Nikolaus/ Reinhold - Daniel N'Guessan-Lopez

Mathilde - Eloise Littell

Gretta - Grace Jenkins

Melitta - Bella Kane

Louisa - Effie Ogino


Band:


Piano - Jordan Li-Smith

Cello - Hannah Thomas

Guitar - Connor Gallagher

Bass - Robyn Hemmings

Drums/ percussion - George Jones


Synopsis


The winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical - told by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater through "the most gorgeous Broadway score this decade" (Entertainment Weekly), Spring Awakening explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with poignancy and passion that is illuminating and unforgettable.


The landmark musical is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and rock & roll that is exhilarating audiences across the nation like no other musical in years.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 16 August 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Here's the third show in this year's summer season from the British Theatre Academy - an organisation that offers performers under the age of 23 the chance to demonstrate their considerable talents by performing at top-notch venues.


The other shows in the season - Goodnight Mister Tom and Bring It On - are currently playing at Southwark Playhouse.


This production of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's musical sadly only gets a very short airing at Stockwell Playhouse - but it more than deserves another and longer run because this is probably the most demanding of the three shows the BTA is tackling this summer, yet both cast and production team here ably rise to the challenge.


The show is based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play, and the original London production of the musical found considerable critical acclaim, bagging the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 2010.

Spring Awakening The Musical - cast and set

Cast and set for Spring Awakening - photo by Eliza Wilmot


PJ McEvoy's austere, prison-like set provides an appropriately restrictive, authoritarian atmosphere for a musical that has serious points to make, even if society - at least in Western countries - has rather moved on since the times when the original concept was penned.


The plot revolves around a group of teenagers who find themselves being raised in an oppressive environment constructed according to a strict religious and moral code that leaves the young people with no understanding of sexual feelings or human reproduction.


That leaves one of their number - Moritz (played by James Knudsen) - struggling to cope with newly-awakened feelings which he does not comprehend and is tormented by.


His friend Melchior (Max Harwood), a savvy reader and researcher, has discovered more about sexuality and explains the essentials to his friend through drawings - the discovery of which subsequently leads to Melchior's downfall.


Though often pigeon-holed as a rock musical, the music in Spring Awakening is not what one might describe as typically rock.


Much of it has an underlying current of folk with delicate and melancholic, sometimes gorgeous melodies that fit the many poignant elements of the story.


A fine band provides excellent accompaniment - often sounding bigger than its mere five members - and with some haunting, evocative and pensive cello from Hannah Thomas which underscores many of the songs.


Spring Awakening The Musical

Max Harwood as Melchior - photo by Eliza Wilmot

In the lead as Melchior Gabor, Max Harwood delivers a strong and accomplished performance - both in acting and singing - coping admirably with the more sensitive moments that the story imposes on his character.


He's well-supported by Charlotte Coe as the innocent Wendla who craves emotional feeling and contact.


And James Knudsen impresses with his description of the tormented Moritz, torn between the demands of his studies and his developing sexuality.


But there's generally terrific support from the entire cast with many demonstrating impeccable vocal skills as soloists and that makes for powerful singing in the ensemble numbers too.


Even given our modern, liberal approach to sex education, adolescence nonetheless can still be a difficult time of emotional turmoil and that is where the show's plot still finds much of its currency and relevance.


Even if it is a rather sad tale, Dean Johnson's laudable and well-rounded production handles all the emotionally dramatic elements of the story and the intricate musicality with thoughtful and captivating equanimity.



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