Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Wilbury Theatre Group’s closing show of their season is “Spring Awakening”, the 2007 Tony Award winning musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater which won 7 Tonys. This musical ran for 888 performances on Broadway and is a fusion of morality, sexuality and rock n’ roll that explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood. The musical is an adaptation of the controversial 1891 play with the same name by Frank Wedekind which was banned in Germany due to its portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide.
Set in late 19th Century Germany, the show tells the tale of teenagers who are discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality. Director Josh Short opens the cast up to explore the turmoil of puberty and the effect that provincialism and overprotective parents have on their children and future generations. Music director Matt Requintina taught and leads the cast through the astonishing music, ranging from dreamlike ballads to driving, almost religious rock anthems while choreographer Ali Kenner Brodsky taught them the powerful dance moves that enthrall the audience. The results are stunning, leaving the audience in tears and wildly applauding these talented performers on a job very well done.
Josh gives each member of his cast their moment to shine in this show. He mixes the dramatic and comic moments together splendidly. His blocking of the sex scene is marvelous as the cast moves the turntable set around. The theatre is very intimate so you can see the expressions on every cast members face. Matt’s musical direction brings out the best in his performers. Some of this music has a dissonant sound like a Sondheim score. The cast members also play instruments in the show. Ali’s choreography includes many different dance styles with the show stopping number being “Totally Fucked” when Melchior is sent to reform school in the second act. This number is astounding. The leading characters in this musical are Wendla, Melchior and Moritz. They all have incredible voices. Katrina Pavao as Wendla, delivers a marvelous performance as this confused young girl who gets caught up in adolescence and tugs at your heartstrings in this show. Katrina sings “Mama Who Bore Me” when she asks her mother where babies come from and “The Word of Your Body” when she and Melchior want to give into their sexual inclinations. It’s a beautiful ballad and sounds like it is from “Les Miserables.” She then sings “I Believe” when they have sex together, “The Guilty Ones” when they reflecting on their lovemaking, “Whispering” when Wendla becomes optimistic about her future child and “Those I Have Known” when she and Moritz encourage Melchior to live and carry their memories with him forever. This is an incredible tear jerking moment in this show with Katrina delivering a gut wrenching performance in this role. I first reviewed her as Maria in “The Sound Of Music” at LaSalle back in 2010.
Brad Wilson delivers a dramatic performance as this tortured soul, Moritz. This character has been traumatized by puberty and can’t concentrate on his lessons. Brad is quite comic in the first act as this underachieving student. His numbers include “The Bitch of Living”, an upbeat song about frustrating thoughts and desires and “Then There Were None” where he is devastated at Melchior’s mother’s refusal to help him. Brad’s show stopping number is the emotionally draining “Don’t Do Sadness” as he wanders through town contemplating suicide. He also delivers the goods in “Blue Wind” when he refuses Ilse’s help and does the unthinkable at his feelings of utter despair. Another awesome performer is Diego Guevera as the tortured, Melchior, who is the school’s brilliant and fearless leader. He delivers a multifaceted performance in this role. His marvelous voice is heard in his duets as well as in his solo numbers. Diego brings tears to your eyes with his heartfelt portrayal especially when he finds the grave of his true love. His songs include “All That’s Known”, “The Mirror Blue Night” and “Left Behind” which elicits many tears from one and all. The tears in his eyes during this number is superb. Diego’s falsetto is stunning in several numbers and his version of “Totally Fucked” is fantastic. I first reviewed Diego as Bernardo in “West Side Story” at LaSalle. Katrina played Anita in that production. Kudos to all three lead on magnificent performances.
The musical does end on a hopeful note. Ilse is wonderfully played by Jessie March. Her soulful voice sells “Blue Wind” to Moritz before his final despair. She also sings “The Dark I Know” with Martha about being abused by her father. The best harmonic number in the show is “Purple Summer”, the hopeful number sung by Jessie and the cast. It sends chills up your spine. Thankfully there are some lighter moments to balance out the heavy drama of the show. The scene between the two gay characters of Hanschen and Ernst is hilarious. It culminates with them kissing each other. This happens as the two young characters realize their attraction towards each other. Gunnar Manchester plays Hanschen excellently. He has a hilarious masturbating scene while doing push ups. He, the boys and girls sing “My Junk” during it. Aaron Blanck is a hoot as Ernst as well as Fraulein Knuppeldick who plots to kick Moritz out of school and send Melchior to reform school. Aaron is on stilts while playing this role as is Daraja Hinds as Herr Knochenbrunch, the mean Latin professor. Gunnar and Aaron also sing the reprise of “Word of Your Body.” Other soloists include Maggie Papa, Jennifer Pierel and Daraja Hinds as Thea, Martha and Anna while the male soloists are Matthew Gorgone and Nigel Richards as Georg and Otto. So for a contemporary musical that will resonate with audiences of all ages, be sure to catch “Spring Awakening” at Wilbury Theatre Group. It is one of the must see shows of this spring season. Tell them Tony sent you.
SPRING AWAKENING (18 May to 11 June)
Wilbury Theatre Group, 393 Broad St, Providence, RI
1(401)400-7100 or www.thewilburygroup.org