Sex: The center of every teenager’s life. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s rock-musical interpretation of Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1892 play portrays the very true personal journeys of a group of teenagers as they grow into their sexuality and discover their “awakening.” The Melodramatics Theatre Company premiered Spring Awakening on Thursday and it will run through April 14.
The musical takes on a slew of hot topics of adolescent life, from sex in general to homosexuality, masturbation, pregnancy, abortion, abuse and suicide. Although exploring such serious themes, the musical’s delicacy in transitioning from comedic, lighthearted dialogue to moments of deep reflection keeps the audience engaged and attuned to the plight of each character. It runs the gamut of emotions and situations a teenager faces with the emergence of identity. And to think that the characters’ trials and tribulations set in 1890s Germany are still applicable to teens today, makes the subject matter of the play all the more haunting.
Director Amina Omari says that “90 percent of a director’s job is casting.” Well then she at least gets an A- right off the bat. The cast is comprised of students from Ithaca College and Cornell as well as adult players from the area at large. Although each performer has their own unique voice that they flaunt at different intervals of the show, they manage the difficult task of coalescing as one powerful unit. Songs like “My Junk” and “Left Behind” really accentuate this, as individuals shine while the chorus carries the whole.
This holds true for the acting. Ithaca College senior, Eric Hagreen, plays the nervous Moritz Stiefel intertwining moments of sincerity and comedy with a consistent, genuine grace. And IC freshmen Coleman Hemsath and Starr Jasmine Leavitt, who play Melchior and Wendla, respectively, are also forces to be reckoned with, tackling their characters’ plot lines head-on with no hesitation. The rest of the cast cannot be overlooked; each delivers other memorable scenes that make for a true ensemble, where no one is left behind.
Omari and the rest of the crew play off the rock edge in the music and apply it to other aesthetics such as costume and lighting. As the singers’ notes echoed throughout the theater, the punk influence could not only be heard but also seen. The original Broadway show only hinted at this punk style through subtle nods, like the unorthodox male hairstyles for instance. In Omari’s re-imagining, all characters receive a makeover. The males sport interesting hairstyles and bright, neon shoelaces that clash with the traditional late 19th century wardrobe. The girls wear bright leggings, strong makeup and hard braids, no longer innocent bystanders to the punk undertones of the play.
Lighting is also key to reaching a more rocking vibe. The use of more vibrant colors and different techniques made the show as visually rock-infused as the music and subject matter.
Overall, the Melodramatics Theatre Company displays excellent showmanship and vision to Spring Awakening, making the most of Risley Theater and the talent of each individual. But hopefully the show transcends simple entertainment. The fact that the show’s many plots remain relevant for young adults in general is a cause of concern. Sexuality is a core truth of any individual and should not remain a taboo but an accepted reality. The show urges for proper sex education for young people, so they make better decisions instead of succumbing to foolish misunderstandings and unnecessary accidents. So that when one reaches their “spring awakening,” he or she is not blinded by ignorance and fear, but guided and armed with the proper tools. It should be a policy that all parents and educators should adopt so that we evolve from our ancient rhetoric on sexuality that stumps our societal growth. Hopefully, this musical will seem anachronistic one day instead of hitting so close to home. And if nothing else, at least there are still catchy tunes to enjoy.