A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
A coming of age musical that's not all sweetness and light
The multiple Tony Award winning musical Spring Awakening has just opened in Melbourne at Chapel Off Chapel in its Victorian professional premiere.
The plot is broadly about the sexual awakening of teens, set in a conservative German town in the 1890s. The mode of dress is as conservative as the attitudes. The girls in particular are naive about sexuality, their parents in the main reluctant to talk about it.
It sounds from the description like it will be a soft, gentle show; a sort of 'boy meets girl' story, where there are some revelations, some learnings, shared experiences and everyone will live happily ever after.
It turns out this is a really hard-edged show. In the course of the show, we confront suicide, abortion and domestic violence, to mention just some of the themes; it is a microcosm of teenage angst. From a story point of view, I found this a difficult show to watch.
And yet, there are SO many positives about this show. The cast is mightily talented, with a depth that left me open-mouthed with admiration. The direction is tight and a credit to director Robbie Carnellotti. The music (directed by Caleb Garfinkel) is astonishing; it's no surprise to learn that one of the show's Tony Awards was for "Best Original Score" (2007). The score switches from folk to rock and back again in an instant.
The choreography (by Zoee Marsh) is outstanding. The stage is used to its full capacity and in fact, even some of the front row of seats are taken over by the performers. The dance scenes exude energy and dynamism.
Special mention must go to the leads in this show. Ashley Roussety as Melchior is quietly assured at the outset, as the top student in school and holder of knowledge about matters of sexuality. He shares this knowledge with fellow student Moritz (Brent Trotter) and, after a (literally) rough start, with love interest, Wendla (Jessie-Lou Yates).
Wendla (Jessica-Lou Yates) and Melchior (Ashley Roussety)
Meanwhile, marginalised by his school teachers for his lack of application to study, Moritz is advised he will not be able to continue in the school. His father does not receive this news kindly.
Moritz (Brent Trotter) - on a slippery slope. (At rear, Ilse (Hannah McInerney))
After a bright start, these three characters end up on a downward spiral that, as an audience member, you sense is not going to end well. All three performers are strong in their roles, which are a challenging mix of musicality and drama.
Also central to the story are the two 'adults', cleverly played by Barry Mitchell and Olivia Solomons. These two morph between the range of adult roles in the production - from parents to teachers to doctors. It takes a minute or two to realise they are taking on different characters, though throughout they retain that stereotypical crusty, German conservatism.
Barry Mitchell and Olivia Solomons as the 'adults' - clever transitions
Interestingly, a large percentage of the cast get their moment in the spotlight too, with centre stage not just confined to the leads. This means there has to be depth in the cast for this show to work; there is, and it does! Impressively, in some scenes, performers who sing and dance beautifully are handed musical instruments which, it seems, they can also play beautifully. Amazing talent.
While I love to revisit the tried and true musicals, it's great to see something fresh and new. I think if I'd been better prepared for the sad and dark elements of this show, I'd have enjoyed it more, which is why I've been so overt in describing the tone in this review.
My partner summarised Spring Awakening as 'Grease meets Dusty the Musical', and actually, that's not a bad description. There's a fantastic, all-cast finale, but, as in Dusty, it doesn't quite succeed in lifting one's spirits and I left the theatre feeling a sense of heaviness.
The full cast on stage
DO go and see this outstanding performance by this talented cast, just DON'T expect a happy ending.
Spring Awakening plays at Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran, each night except Monday and Tuesday until 10th June. (There are also weekend matinee performances.) Check the website for session times.
Ticket prices range between $49 and $79. Click here to buy tickets online.
Parental guidance is recommended for audience members under 15 years of age.
The running time for Spring Awakening is approximately 2.5 hours including a 20 minute interval.
All images used in this article are publicity shots taken by photographer Belinda Strodder.