REVIEW: Xavier’s Spring Awakening

11130137_871884542869786_4357547585560585119_nSPRING AWAKENING is my favorite show.  Without question, it has impacted me more than any piece of theatre ever has.  As someone who has worked with teenagers for almost twenty years in various capacities, this show is as important to my belief system as any college course I ever had.

Oh, come on, Kirk, you’re overstating it.  Right?

Nope.  I mean it.  The musical helps reinforce that kids are curious, need education about things we aren’t always comfortable talking about . . . and this is – and should be – an uncomfortable show to watch. That’s kind of the point.

So, when Xavier – a Catholic instutituion – announced it as part of their season I was surprised.  I know director Stephen Skiles doesn’t mind pushing the envelope; they’ve done shows with adult themes, mature language, and even full frontal puppet nudity!  But SPRING AWAKENING is . . . well, its pretty intense.

And Skiles doesn’t shy away from any of it.  The language is as raw as ever and all the themes are present – and so is the sex scene.  (As a side note, I get frustrated with productions of this show that don’t incorporate at least part of the traditional nudity in the sex scene . . . yet in this case, I thought the blocking didn’t take me out of the moment while maintaining modesty.)

11136663_871172472940993_375501013949935943_nThere are three top-notch actors in the lead roles. Tyler Kuhlman is “Melchior,” a bright, confident young man whose mother has encouraged him to be a free-thinker. In this show, he handles a difficult vocal role He’s popular, especially with the blossoming young women including “Wendla,” played by the marvelous Maya Farhat. Melchior’s best friend, “Moritz,” is played by Griff Bludworth.  All three are strong; it has been especially rewarding to watch Bludworth mature into such a fine performer.

The rest of ensemble sings their tracks well, for the most part, and I got the sense that they all understood not only their characters but also the overall message of the show.  I really enjoyed myself.

I must admit I was annoyed at the synthesized bass used a couple of times and thought the band distracted from the singers more than once instead of supporting them.  I also think the lighting cues were imperfect on opening night, which is a shame because Alice Trent’s lighting design is very interesting.  I especially like her use of the grates in the floor of the stage to illuminate the actors and her design of the song, “The Dark I Know Well” is particularly haunting.

The set design by Alana Yurczyk, sound design by Cam Mitchell, and costumes by Kathleen Hotmer are all equally solid.  Xavier’s not disappointed yet with the technical aspects of their shows. Other highlights are Alex Spindler’s take on “Hanschen,” Molly Hiltz’s versatility as the Adult Women, and Dee Anne Bryll’s strong choreography.  Also of note is Farhat’s vocal restraint and performance of the song “Whispering,” and the powerful finale number, “The Song of Purple Summer.”

Overall, I am quite satisfied with this production of SPRING AWAKENING.  I’m a difficult critic when it comes to this show; I’m so glad that they did it right.  Next season, Xavier kicks off with another favorite of mine, THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE . . . and I have high standards for that show as well.  I’m counting on another great effort, though.  And I also must tell you – the entire season next year looks spectacular with exciting shows, wonderful directors, and a great opportunity for these students to experience what they’re learning.  I’m enthusiastic!

You should absolutely go see SPRING AWAKENING and when you do, I hope it motivates some thought and maybe some action in how you relate to the young people in your life.  I know it affects me every time I see it.

SPRING AWAKENING runs through this weekend at Xavier University.  Click here for more information and tickets.