Based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, Steven Sater's 2006 musical adaptation of Spring Awakening continues its exploration of children coming to grips with sex and sexuality at a time where the adults around them will do anything possible to prevent them from growing up. Presented by StageArt, the musical is brought to life by an energetic and committed cast but ultimately falls short of retaining the intent and integrity of the original play.
Ashley Roussety and Jessie-Lou Yates as Melchior and Wendla are charismatic on stage and clearly have the skill and talent to lead a show, however their on-stage chemistry is never given the time to develop. Brent Trotter as Moritz, does exceptionally well with his acting and singing, portraying a boy struggling to deal with the pressure placed upon him. The cast of 15 deliver some strong performances overall but the use of German accents was inconsistent and not always accurate. While the play is set in Germany there isn't a need for the accents, especially if the entire cast is not going to be speaking in German accents.
Director Robbie Carmellotti has characters present in many scenes that they are not involved in, building on the idea that they all share the same thoughts and feelings and have an understanding of each other. Unfortunately haphazard directing results in scenes that play out overly dramatic, such as the revelation that Martha's dad beats her, while others are underplayed and lack the tension they require, such as when Wendla begs Melchior to beat her with a wooden switch. Carmellotti's minimal yet intelligent stage design is symbolic of the sexual awakening that will eventually envelop these children with a large tree covering the floor of the stage with branches continuing to run along the walls.
It is disappointing - and frustrating - that Sater chose to turn Wendla's rape into an act of consensual sex, as it significantly changes the tone of the play and lessens its impact, resulting in yet another love story where the hero mourns the death of his beloved. It might be musical theatre but it doesn't mean it can't be serious and challenging, and it was ill-thought-out of Sater to have penned this alternative interpretation.
Spring Awakening has a beautiful score by Duncan Sheik and the musical performances are a highlight. Led by musical director, Caleb Garfinkel, the band flawlessly plays an assortment of instruments including guitars, mandolins, drums and violins that heighten the emotions being felt on stage. The cast are also great in their musical numbers, but the handheld microphones become a distraction and limit the cast in being fully immersed by the moment. There are a number of crowd-pleasing songs with "Totally Fucked" leading the pack, allowing the cast to express the anger and frustrations of their characters, with other highlights including "Touch Me" and "Don't Do Sadness".
As a piece of musical theatre Spring Awakening seems to spend more time trying to entertain the audience with its musical numbers than remaining true to the material its exploring. While much of the problem lies with the way Sater's book deals with the transition to adulthood, stronger direction would have given StageArt another memorable shows to add to its already impressive repertoire.
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Season: until 10 June | Wed - Sun 7:30pm, Sat - Sun 1:30pm
Tickets: Prices from $39
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel
Photo Credit: Belinda Strodder