Review

Spring Awakening production brings life during autumn

Musical brings new ideas to bold subject matter

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Melchior and Wendla, Palmer and Guilderson, get intimate while the cast sings eerily from the background.   Teri Boates

A touching and bold musical has taken over the Bus Stop Theatre this week.

Presented by Side-by-Side Productions and with Jason Watt as director, the performance is simple and similar to other productions of Spring Awakening, but with a few modern, and surprising, elements.

The musical, written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik based on the play by Frank Wedekind, brings life to the small black box theatre.

Spring Awakening tells the story of teenagers in 19th-century Germany struggling with sexuality, abuse, suicide and pregnancy. Because of the sensitive subject matter, the musical is rated “R.” Set to a predominantly rock ‘n’ roll score, the songs range from emotional and soft to comedic and boisterous.

Despite the odd flat note or line sung out of tune, the singing is satisfactory, especially when the cast sings in harmony. Songs like “Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)” immediately catch the audiences attention when the female characters sing in perfect harmony while dancing on chairs.

This happens again in “I Believe,” during an intimate scene between Melchior, played by Greg Palmer, and Wendla, played by Becca Guilderson. While they are kissing and Guilderson’s breast is exposed, the rest of the cast sings from the edge of the stage, setting an eerie yet beautiful scene.

The set is simple yet powerful. The all-black floor, walls and ceiling invite audience members to use their imagination with each scene. Besides a journal and a switch whip, the only props used are six white chairs never leaving the stage.

The chairs are arranged differently in each scene for characters to sit and dance on, but they are also used to imitate a coffin, trees and gravestones. Because of this simplicity, no stage crew is required. Instead, the actors rearrange the chairs before exiting each scene.

A questionable decision made by Watt was to incorporate cell phones during the song My Junk.

Although the story is set in the 1800s and the characters dress, act and speak as such, the group of girls pull out a cell phone to take a “selfie.” Another cell phone is used in this scene by Hanschen, played by Brandon Lorimer, while he is masturbating. This was confusing and unecessary and may have made more sense if cell phones were used in more than one scene.

A line in the song “The Word of Your Body” reads: “I’m gonna bruise you/you’re gonna be my bruise.” This line is taken literally by Watt when showing the effect of one character’s actions on another.

This is shown through character’s pressing their purple paint covered hands onto another character’s body in emotional moments. This can be seen at the funeral of Moritz Steifel, played by Nich Patzelt. As each character individually places a white rose on his grave, a ghostly Moritz grabs them by the arm, leaving a purple hand mark or bruise. This aspect of the musical is well thought-out.

I recommend Side-by-Side’s production, especially if you have seen the musical. The cast and director add a unique flair, and the simplicity of the play makes it easy to follow and stay engaged.

Spring Awakening runs until Oct. 30 at the Bus Stop Theatre.