By Matthew Waldrep
Actors’ Theatre of Grand Rapids is presenting the Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening” at Spectrum Theater.
Set in Germany during the late 19th century, “Spring Awakening” tells the tale of several teenagers exploring their misunderstood sexual desires amidst the challenges of transitioning into adulthood. As an adaptation of the 1891 play of the same name by playwright Frank Wedekind, playwright Steven Sater and Composer Duncan Sheik create a postmodern retelling of the controversial play. The title itself alludes to the angst-ridden teens’ ‘awakening’ and discovering their sexual nature.
For starters, this show is by no means your traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein-esc song and dance production. Directed by the award winning founder of Actors’ Theatre, Fred Sebulske, the songs of “Spring Awakening” carry inescapable rock and roll energy. The anthematic cry of sexual frustration, “The Bitch of Living,” performed by the entire cast, begs for head-bob from the audience, if not a head-bang. The alt-rock score for a story about late 19th century students in Germany sets quite the juxtaposition while also feeling strangely relevant. You soon forget that it’s wrong for the period and realize that it’s right for the themes.
The story focuses heavily around the lives of three of the teenagers: Wendla (Maggie Nye), a naïve and curious girl whose mother has kept her in the dark about such simple things as where babies come from, and Melchior (Addison Reid Coe), the rebellious upstart that writes an essay describing sex to his anxious friend Moritz (Duncan McCargar) who fears the erotic dreams he’s experienced lately are a sign of insanity.
Wendla and Melchior engage in an all but innocent and often times awkward love affair. Moritz, who struggles with his schooling and is abused by his cold and unforgiving father, continues to suffer from fears that threaten a relationship with his childhood friend, Ilse (Madeline Blyveis).
While “Spring Awakening” naturally takes a humorous approach to masturbation and the emotional woes of puberty, it also tackles some of the harshest realities facing a youth held under the thumb of repressive adult figures. From the repercussions of abusive parents and misguided adolescence to the pain of suicide and abortion, no social dilemma is left taboo.
“Spring Akwening” will be showing through December 17.