Slow Burn Burnishes a Dusky Jewel
By Skip Sheffield
Slow Burn Theatre Company has done something remarkable with its production of the musical “Spring Awakening,” running through April 3 in the Amaturo Theater of Broward Center. They have made a dark and difficult play enjoyable.
“Spring Awakening” was controversial from its beginning as an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind. Because of its frank treatment of how teenagers really felt about love, sex and death, it was banned in some circles.
More than 100 years later “Spring Awakening” was turned into a 2006 Broadway musical with music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Safer. The production won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a Grammy Award for the cast album.
I saw a production of the show a few years ago at Parker Playhouse. While I admired the music, I thought the story was a downer. After all, two of the characters die; one by suicide, and sexual confusion, perversion and adolescent angst dominate.
Director Patrick Fitzwater has not altered the melodramatic script. He has made it palatable through a first-class singing and acting cast, brilliant choreography and an excellent onstage orchestra, pumped by the powerful but not overpowering rock guitar stylings of Guillermo Gonzalez under the direction of Caryl Fantel.
The setting is the same as the original play, in late 19th century Germany. It is a repressive society, particularly for young people. Melchoir (Cameron Jordan) is a handsome, charismatic, rebellious young man who has taken it upon himself to “fight the power.” He doesn’t believe in God or religion. His friend Moritz (Cameron Jordan) is his opposite; weak, insecure, oppressed by his parents and intimidated by the demands of school.
The play begins with Wendela (Stephanny Noria), a beautiful young woman who does not understand her sexual awakening, as she conveys through the first song, “Mama Who Bore Me.”
Mama (Kaitlyn O’Neill) is no help. When Wendela asks for sex education advice, Mama just brushes her aside. This will prove disastrous when Wendela falls under the spell of Melchior.
One weird thing about this show is that all the adult characters are played by just two actors. Matthew Korinko plays all the adult men, from priest to father to principal. Kaitlyn O’Neill is all the women, including a seductive piano teacher. Another weird thing is that most of the actors appear to be beyond high school age, but for those of us raised on “Beach Party” movies, it is no big deal.
In 1891 German schools were not coeducational, which furthered the mystery of male-female relationships. Each of the classmates has his or her little dramas, typified in “My Junk.” My favorite is Georg (Etan Deray), who fantasizes about his piano teacher.
The lyrics are cheerfully vulgar, but somehow this time around they fit. They culminate in the anthem “Song of Purple Summer,” and its final conclusion which I can’t quote in a family newspaper.
Slow Burn Theatre took a chance moving from the low-rent West Boca High School Auditorium to the high-rent district of Broward Center. “Spring Awakening” shows the risk is paying off. This show is not for everyone, but for those who cherish individual freedom, it is a treasure.
Shows are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $45. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.