George Randolph Jr.’s academy has international popularity for many reasons, but most notably due to their big shows and growing talent. The academy’s latest production of Spring Awakening holds no reservations to their ongoing status, showcasing powerful numbers and unforgettable individual performances.
With music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics/book by Steven Sater, the production’s children explore a new age of repressed sexual discovery in this cult-like modern epic. Set in late 19th Century Germany, the kids grapple with the forces of nature through rock music, rebellion and unfortunate endings.
Director Anne-Marie Donovan’s decision to mount an entire cast of 26 opposed to the concise casting of 13 is certainly an ambitious one. Just as the children seek to break through societal norms and constrictions over morality and sexual awakening, Donovan’s assisted destruction of the musical structure is both wise and reflective of the piece as a whole.
The only downfall to this approach is that the extended ensemble works better as a collective rather than through individual responses to the narrative. For a musical with so much intricacies being played through, it would be beneficial to focus solely on the original plot, as this experiment often causes the production to continually lose focus. The goal is thoughtful but not quite exercised thoroughly in this metatheatrical engagement.
Where focus becomes lost, attention is certainly achieved through the outstanding orchestra and strong musical numbers. Music Director/Conductor Lily Ling is applauded for her symphonic and outright commanding band. The music is so great that it often upstages the vocals being sung in the best way possible.
Linda Garneau’s choreography is utterly fluid. While a rebellious musical, the consistent stomping of 26 pairs of feet limits the experience to a child’s fit, however the ensemble carries through with sheer outrage and contempt for the times.
Featuring an array of talented young performers, you can expect to see a new generation of professional actors emerge and succeed from this very production. Of them, Jahlen Barnes’ performance as Melchior tremendously stands out among the entire cast. Barnes provides for a compelling performance filled with sheer passion and excellent feel. I can expect to see his name travelling around many future programs. The male ensemble works well as a group, although almost too performative at times causing strain and disassociation from their characters.
Veronika Slowikowska’s performance as Wendla comes off as far too timid. Her portrayal of this title role may be explorative, yet she presents as unprepared, uncertain and unbelievable. Slowikowska engages far better in group settings, thus highlighting her undemanding ability to take the stage despite the characters thoughts of anger, confusion and frustration. The female ensemble and cast of supporting characters works well to distract, engage and completely derail the narrative.
Scott Penner’s scenic design is grandly symbolic. The use of constrained nature creeping through the cages stands out as an intellectually stimulating feature. With the addition of paintings and classic 19th Century art, the visual weaves through and completely transforms the stage. Combined with the auditory aesthetic of Ling’s professional work, this production succeeds.
Spring Awakening runs at the Randolph Theatre until Aug. 8. For tickets and more information, visit www.randolphacademy.com.