With a youthful cast under Michael Baron’s direction comes a highly satisfying Oklahoma premiere.
In the much-lauded Spring Awakening, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik have adapted Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German tragedy about teenage angst and sexual awakening into a musical.
Employing contemporary slang and combining the 19th-century setting with a rock score, the show attempts — and basically succeeds — to give audiences the jolt of the provocative original, which wasn’t staged until 1906.
The show centers on Wendla (Leah Coleman), Melchior (Kelly Methven) and Moritz (Wilson Kerr). Their budding physical maturity and sexuality absorb them and their classmates. The various adults in their lives (all played with great versatility by Jonathan Beck Reed and Jennifer Teel) fail their children from one extreme to the other.
You won’t walk out of the Plaza humming any of the tunes, but this show’s score is engaging and, at times, haunting. Sung by Martha (Grayson Heyl) and Ilse (Renee Lawrence), “The Dark I Know Well” deals with physical and sexual abuse. A welcome addition to musical theater, “Totally Fucked,” provides comic relief.
Sheik and Simon Hale’s orchestrations, Annmarie Milazzo’s vocal arrangements and Brad Poarch’s sound design help the singers render most lyrics with much-appreciated clarity.
Jeffrey Meek’s period costumes provide a nice contrast with Michael Raiford’s schematic, versatile set design and Art Whaley’s contemporary, effective lighting. Ashley Wells’ choreography isn’t dancing as much as stylized movement that skillfully fits the mood.
Sater and Sheik have slightly toned down Wedekind’s story. Although the production is thought-provoking, they seem to lose nerve at the end.
Spring Awakening is a bleak, disturbing work — a major part of its appeal in a genre that turns out some pretty lightweight stuff. The last scene is a Hallmark-card moment where the cast appears freshly scrubbed and Americanized, as if the writers did not want to end on a downer.