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Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening

Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater

Music by Duncan Sheik

Based on the play by Frank Wedekind

Directed by Jonathan Berry

Musical direction by Allison Kane

Choreography by Nicole Pellegrino

Produced by Griffin Theater Company

Whatever is done from love occurs always beyond good and evil
– Friedrich Nietzsche

My feelings about this play are fairly well-documented.  To put it succinctly: I’m not a huge fan of the material.  That said, this production was far more endearing – and overall successful – than the previous Broadway in Chicago venture.  They made the material work better for them than their touring counterparts.  And to a surprising degree.  This troupe really found the comic moments between the words; they had great timing and used space very well.

Spring Awakening at Theater Wit by Griffin Theatre CompanyThese characters were more fleshed- and thought-out, more flesh and blood.  Melchior (Josh Salt), the smooth-talker, the seducer, the smart, handsome, godless grinner may know a lot about women, may be the only one in his class who really knows the nuts and bolts of sex; but that doesn’t stop him from being horrendously nervous around a girl he actually likes.  This lends him an innocence and a naiveté – and a lack of malice.  He is not scheming, he is not simply trying to get into Wendla’s (Aja Wiltshire) pants: his goal is not merely sexual gratification.  This is diametrically opposed, I believe, to what BiC did with his decisions regarding Wendla, and it makes the play so much more whole this way.  Melchior says that he doesn’t believe in love, but his actions betray him.  This is altogether a much more well-thought-out production of the play.  I barely noticed my main critique of the musical – i.e. the hayloft scene between Melchior and Wendla; indeed, though the words still weren’t there, the acting and emotion stood in for them.  That is something I greatly appreciated.

Spring Awakening at Theater Wit by Griffin Theatre CompanyYou might notice that I’m focusing on Melchior and Wendla a lot; it’s not just because they’re the two largest roles.  They were also stand-out actors.  And though Salt’s voice could have been stronger, I really had no problem with him because he could act so well – and sing well enough, anyway.  Almost the entire ensemble is very strong.  Some were better than others – Vanessa Greenway, Larry Baldacci (as the adults in the piece), Paige Collins, Adam Fane, and Harter Clingman (Martha, Hänschen and Georg, respectively) all put in absolutely sturdy performances.  Indeed, the only person with whom I was somewhat disappointed was Matthew Fletcher’s Moritz: his was a very high-energy performance, but it seemed like he didn’t know how to channel that well, so it ended up largely diffused.  But god knows it was enthusiastic.

The costumes and lighting are also really great.  The adults’ costumes are all very austere and period-appropriate, whereas the kids have a mishmash of Victorian and modern elements – including Converse and dyed hair.  Spring Awakening at Theater Wit by Griffin Theatre CompanyBut since they’re singing into a microphone anyway, it really works.  It enhances the divide between the generations.  The sound left something to be desired – but the mixing will get better with time.  The band is great, very tight.  The set was nice, as well, consisting mostly of scaffolding, giving the stage a stifling, industrial, yet wide-open feel.  This isn’t a pitch-perfect production; there are awkward moments, some slightly shoddy acting (but really only a little), and I have a couple reservations (for instance, I’m not sure bringing the entire cast out in white at the end of the play diminishes the achieved purity of the now-dead Moritz and Wendla); but overall it’s a great production.  It’s still not my favorite piece of theatre, but Griffin does it very well, and they deserve recognition for that.


Will Fink

Reviewed on 12.4.11

For full show information, visit TheatreInChicago.

At Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL; for tickets visit or call 773-975-8150; tickets $28-38; performances Thu.-Sat. at 7:30, Sun. at 3pm through Jan. 8; running time 2hrs 20min.

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