Monday, October 8, 2012

SPRING AWAKENING • Stray Dog Theatre

Navigating those prickly adolescent years can be a real bitch, and bruises can be hard to avoid -- psychological or otherwise.  These perennial rocky roads are explored in Stray Dog Theatre's 10th season opener, Spring Awakening, and it's completely absorbing.  The original material, Frank Wedekind's play written in 1891, was banned in Germany for its content that includes abortion, suicide, homosexuality, rape and child abuse.  The musical adaptation debuted on Broadway in 2006 and won eight Tony Awards, and Stray Dog's production illustrates that the volatility often encountered in the transition from childhood to adulthood doesn't change that much -- regardless of what century you're in.

Set in a provincial 1890's German town, mothers resist telling their daughters about where babies come from, boys are weighed down by the pressure to succeed in their studies and the guilt of wet dreams, and girls are kicked out of their houses because they are being abused by their fathers.  This musical examines sexual awakening without being crude, tempering the heavy subject matter with humor, an authentic approach to those anxiety laden teenage years, and then sets it all to an incredible score courtesy of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.  Spring Awakening makes an even more powerful impression inside the intimate space of Tower Grove Abbey.

(front, l to r) Keith Thompson, Ryan Foizey, Zach Wachter,
C. E. Fifer. (back, l to r) Evan Fornachon,
Anthony Christopher Milfelt and Paul Cereghino.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Melissa Southmayd turns in a wonderful performance as the naive Wendla, full of curiosity who has yet to feel anything.  She kicks the show off beautifully with "Mama Who Bore Me".  Her soon to be boyfriend Melchior, very well played by a strong voiced Zach Wachter, questions everything from his faith to his elders.  His best friend Moritz is plagued by his dreams and has also been left completely in the dark by his parents when it comes to the birds and the bees.  Melchior ends up writing a little essay (with illustrations) to try to shed a little light on the nuts and bolts of sex for Moritz, who has no one else to go to.  As Moritz, the most angst-ridden of all, Ryan Foizey makes an impressive turn in "The Bitch of Living" and "Don't Do Sadness".

(l to r) Meadow Nguy, Melissa Southmayd, Natalie Sannes
and Sabra Sellers.
Photo credit: John Lamb
It's hard for me to pick out one or two people in the rest of the cast because this score provides the opportunity for many to have their moment to shine.  But I'll try.  Anna Skidis is Ilse -- homeless after being kicked out, when not spending time at an artists colony.  Skidis does a beautiful job with "Blue Wind" and adds a strong voice to the ensemble, and Meadow Nguy as Martha delivers a compelling "The Dark I Know Well".  C.E. Fifer adds much to the ensemble, along with Paul Cereghino, and the rest of the actors all sound brilliant together -- a cast full of solid voices.  The adult roles are played by Jan Niehoff and Keith Thompson, painting most grown-ups as repressed, stern and sometimes a little evil.  They both play their parts perfectly, often contributing to the torment in the lives of the kids.

(l to r) Zach Wachter (Melchior Gabor)
and Ryan Foizey (Moritz Stiefel).
Photo credit: John Lamb
David Blake's raked set has low platforms with a few steps leading up on either side, and when coupled with Justin Been's sure-handed direction, along with J.T. Ricroft's choreography, these elements all come together to create some beautiful tableaus.  Tyler Duenow's lighting adds to the dreamy atmosphere of the numbers, with over a dozen lights hanging above the band, perched above the action.  I admit I got really excited when I saw strings up there, and they sounded marvelous with Chris Petersen conducting.  A rock score with violas?!  Love.  Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's costumes also fit perfectly into the mix and subtly distinguish the characters.

C. E. Fifer, Evan Fornachon,
Zach Wachter (Melchior Gabor),
Paul Cereghino and Anthony Christopher Milfelt.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Stray Dog has certainly been on a roll lately, and this latest offering is sure to give you a memorable night of theatre.  Because of the adult content, leave the kids at home, but whatever you do, don't miss this musical.  I'm not kidding.


Book/lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through October 20 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, final Saturday performances are at 2pm and 8pm

Melissa Southmayd (Wendla Bergman), Zach Wachter (Melchior Gabor), Ryan Foizey (Moritz Stiefel), Anna Skidis (Ilse Neumann), Meadow Nguy (Martha Bessell), Sabra Sellers (Thea Robel), Natalie K. Sannes (Anna), Paul Cereghino (Hänschen Rilow/Rupert), Evan Fornachon (Ernst Robel/Reinhold), C. E. Fifer (Georg Zirschnitz/Dieter), Anthony Christopher Milfelt (Otto Lämmermeier/Ulbrecht), Jan Niehoff (Adult Female Roles) and Keith Thompson, (Adult Male Roles)

Scenic design by David Blake; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; sound design by Au Nguy; choreographer, J.T. Ricroft; stage manager, Justin Been.

The Band:
Conductor/keyboard, Chris Petersen; bass, Colin Lovett; percussion, Bob McMahon; guitar, Adam Rugo; cello, Bijhou Berni; viola, Michael Blackwood (except 10/5 & 10/6); viola, Joseph R. Gutowski (10/5 & 10/6 only); violin, Steve Frisbee.

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