Tag: Frank Wedekind

StageArt Presents SPRING AWAKENING

Ambitious take on audacious musical

By Bradley Storer

Spring Awakening, the rock musical which first revolutionized the modern conception of musical theatre over ten years ago on Broadway, is a strange beast – the text derived from Frank Wedekind’s controversial late-ninteenth-century play, combined with contemporary rock/pop/folk songs composed by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater that are specifically designed to stand apart from and explore the action of the plot rather than to advance it as in traditional music theatre. Resolving this division between the music and text requires strong direction and a conceptual framework that can bridge these two elements.

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Director Robbie Carmellotti has made big and bold offers with this production, and I thoroughly respect and applaud his efforts in exploring new pathways to interpret a modern classic. However, elements of this production did not fully succeed: the decision to have characters play their own instruments at different points (which all but vanished by the second act) didn’t add anything in particular to the meaning or understanding of the show – the central conceit of nineteenth-century German school children morphing into teen rock stars is already so strong on its own that it doesn’t need this addition. The appearance of handheld microphones as part of this overall metaphor, while an inherent part of this show, becomes overused in this production and feels forced into several unnecessary moments. The decision to have the cast speak their dialogue in German accents and to sing in American accents, which again I appreciate as an attempt to underline the distance between the characters and their inner ‘rock stars’, is unfortunately undermined by a lack of consistent accents across the entire cast. And finally, the re-orchestration of Sheik’s music at certain points deadened the impact of this vital and pulse-raising score, the loss of electric guitar in ‘The Bitch of Living’ turning the number into a country-fied hoedown that lacks the energy and guts of the original.

Brent Trotter is wonderful as Moritz, the anxiety-riddled schoolboy who befalls a terrible fate, managing the character’s difficult journey with great emotion and a gorgeous contemporary voice. As Wendla, Jessie-Lou Yates works hard and tirelessly throughout, but feels slightly miscast in reading as too old to be a young girl undergoing puberty. Ashley Roussety as Melchoir, the closest the show has to a central character, has the opposite problem – he looks perfectly cast as the charismatic and fiercely intelligent protagonist and delivers a credible performance in the first act, and is particularly impressive in Zoee Marsh’s choreography for ‘The Mirror-Blue Night’. However, in the second act he begins to feel a little lost in the role as the story races to climax, losing the emotional impact of the tragic but hopeful conclusion.

The supporting cast, in contrast, are uniformly excellent. Henry Brett steals the entire show as the effete Hanschen, drawing raucous laughter in his two big scenes. Luisa Scrofani impressively shreds the bass guitar as she emotionally tears into the bleakness of ‘The Dark I Know Well’. Grace Browne shines as Thea, and Alice Batt plays both violin and the role of Anna beautifully. Olivia Solomons manages to effectively differentiate every one of her multitude of female adult characters, but sadly Barry Mitchell as her opposite is less successful as parts blur together with similar vocal tone and physicality. The entire ensemble offer up heart-touching loveliness in the complex choreography and choral harmonies of ‘Touch Me’, one of the production’s stronger moments, and showcasing some stunning riffing from Jordan Mahar as Georg.

While this production may have its problems, StageArt should be commended for their commitment to offering contemporary and challenging musicals, and the entire creative team and cast congratulated for attempting a new approach to this much-loved and ground-breaking piece.

Dates: 19 May -10 June

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran.

Times: Wed – Sun 7:30pm, Matinee Sat & Sun 1.30pm, Sun 21st May 4pm

Prices: $49 – $79

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au, (03) 8290 7000, at the venue box office.

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Daniel Lammin and MUST Present AWAKENING

A stunning reimagining

By Bradley Storer

Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening – a tale of sex, violence, and the messy transition from child towards adulthood – is a classic of the twentieth century, incredibly explicit and shocking for the conservative times in which it was written and instantly banned. Awakening, an adaption of the original Spring by director Daniel Lammin comprised of five actors (Nicola Dupree, Samantha Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter and Imogen Walsh) all sharing and swapping roles, seeks to unpack and re-examine the issues raised in the original play to see if anything has changed.

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Oddly enough, it is when the play sticks close to its source material that it feels slightly flat – the earlier, more traditional scenes seem to drag and lack energy despite the commitment of the cast and a wonderful sound design (constructed by Porter) that enlivens every scene. As more stylized and less naturalistic conventions take over, the true and more thrilling theatre begins to appear. Hansy’s masturbatory monologue has never been more intimate and enthralling, and the darkness and horror of the barn scene chills the blood, Wendla’s terrified whispers echoing in the blackness.

The second act, which breaks completely with the setting and costuming of the original text, is where Awakening truly comes into its own. Here Wedekind’s play is cracked open and re-examined in the light of modern society, the most obvious connection being the continuing prevalence of youth suicide and disconnection from each other even in an age where technology connects us in more ways than ever, depicted here in funny and finally tear-inducing series of text messages that pinpoint that tenuous dance between the desire to reach out and the fear of the vulnerability inherent in doing so. The cast are brilliantly versatile, swapping roles with ease, singing multiple harmonies on many occasions and even playing instruments for a Freddie Mercury song.

The final, brilliant revelation this re-examination comes to is an uncovering and denouncement of the original Spring Awakening’s support and perpetuation (whether intentionally or unintentionally, but it is made clear that this makes little difference) of rape culture, pointing out a hideous contradiction in thinking that feels both stunningly obvious and horribly insidious.

Lammin and the cast should be incredibly proud, Awakening is shocking in the best sense of the word: a true ‘awakening’.

Venue: Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

Dates: 10th – 21st May 2017

Times: Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Sunday 5pm

Price: $25 – $35

Tickets: 03 9662 9966 or fortyfivedownstairs.com