Marriott’s SPRING AWAKENING Miraculously Breaks From Tradition
Reviewed by: Russell Goeltenbodt
The Marriott Lincolnshire Theater decided to break away from their 36 year tradition of “the traditional feel good classic musical”; moving toward a “cutting edge contemporary Broadway acclaimed musical with the production of Spring Awakening.
The story of Spring Awakening is set at a school in early 20th century Germany. The teachings are filled with conservative ideas, and ignorance for the teenage young men and women who attend the school. The traditional conservative teachings of the school end up stifling the growth and maturity of the students. Therefore, the students are forced to learn life’s lessons on their own. Unfortunately, their elders will not answer their questions about maturity, sex, relationships and life in general. The story begins with a young Wendla asking her mother where babies come from. Her mother reluctantly gives her information without all of the details. The story moves on from there with boys exploring masturbation, fantasizing about pornography and sexual encounters. With some of the girls doing the same. All the while, the academics and elders are discouraging any information to enlighten the young people with their curiosity. So in a brief description, the show is about all of the taboo subjects of sexuality, abortion, abuse, incest, suicide, with some nudity. All of these subjects one may not want to address while watching a musical. However the brilliant ensemble and direction for Marriott Lincolnshire Theater’s production of “Spring Awakening” proved to be entertaining, tasteful and successful.
Knowing the theater’s successful subscription audience, Executive Producer, Terry James, and Artistic Director, Aaron Thielen made a wise decision with the abbreviated run. I know that many of the older generation subscription holders may find the subject matter shocking and offensive. In fact, my parents are turning in their grave. Was this a bad idea? To the contrary, it is a very smart move to appeal to a younger audience to broaden the theater’s outreach for future audiences. After all, their loyal subscription holders will not be around forever. The producers are well aware of the risks. Especially since their older audience subscription holders are more conservative and less accepting of change. Therefore, Terry James realized the risk and opted for a shorter 3 week run than the customary two-month run. It is refreshing to see this move from tradition just to witness the excellence and the diversity of the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater.
Spring Awakening is more of an ensemble musical. Even though, the individual performances of Eliza Palasz (as Wendla), Patrick Rooney, (as Melchior), Ben Barker (as Moritz) were excellent. Not to mention, the adult leads which included the acclaimed Hollis Resnik and Kevin Gudahl who gave wonderful performances. However, the entire ensemble were the stars of this show. They all created a beautiful blended harmony for the musical numbers, and had a wonderful on stage chemistry with each other. The beautiful voices and well constructed choreography made this show outstanding.
The direction and choreography by Aaron Thielen was pure magic. The set design by Resident Scenic Designer, Thomas M. Ryan was very unique and different. Thomas Ryan removed a section of seating and extended the stage creating a larger use for the Marriott Lincolnshire’s “in the round” stage, which included various backdrops for the school and the forest surrounding it. The Lighting by designer, Lee Fiskness was the best I have seen in a Marriott production. The story for Frank Wedekin’s 1891 play which is adapted musically by composer, Duncan Sheik, and lyrics by Steven Stater enhance the voices for Marriott Lincolnshire Theater’s production of Spring Awakening.
From the standing ovation Spring Awakening received on it’s opening night, I believe it is a success. The projected risk proved to be positive. Keeping in mind, these performances are not included in Marriott Lincolnshire’s subscription. Therefore, the theater must rely on word of mouth referrals. After seeing this performance of Spring Awakening I highly recommend it. It is a wonderful experience to see very talented young people perform at their very best. I am hoping that the younger generation will find this show and tell their friends.
The fact that some people may be easily offended by taboo subjects should not deter you from seeing this outstanding musical. So keep an open mind and enjoy the talent and the excellent music.
Spring Awakening’s limited run is until January 31, 2016 Performances and tickets are listed on their web site www.marriotttheatre.com. Or call 847-634-0200.