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Spring Awakening the Musical

Home > Adelaide > Performing Arts | Shows | Theatre
by Thomas Day (subscribe)
I am an Adelaide based writer, passionate about sharing fun and interesting experiences, with a particular focus on live theatre.
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Adelaide University experiences a Spring Awakening
This year, for the first time, Adelaide University introduced a Bachelor of Music Theatre to their comprehensive list of courses on offer, and it was met by many with much enthusiasm. Previously only offered interstate, this course provides students with, under the direction of world-renowned music theatre expert George Torbay, the complete music theatre experience, through an intensive skills-development program [which] is industry-focused and designed not just to equip students with the three principal disciplines of singing, acting and dancing, but also in creating theatre(Torbay). Forming part of this course, therefore, is the production of a fully staged production whereby students can not only have the opportunity to perform but also have the opportunity to be designers in a collaborative effort. In this instance, their first-ever production is the controversial and multi-award-winning rock musical Spring Awakening, and it is a production which is well-rehearsed and nothing short of exceptional, and one which shows innovative, clever and careful design.

With music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, Spring Awakening is based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play of the same name. The coming-of-age story follows the complex journey of sexual self-discovery and awakening of several teenagers and their struggle to cope with the restrictions and expectations placed upon them by their parents and society. Additionally, their parents also refrain from telling them the full truth about sexuality, and therefore they must learn about it for themselves, which results in significant consequences for both the parents and teenagers. Though the original play was written many years ago, it is unfortunate that the themes still are true for the teens of today's world, and therefore this production is a most appropriate one to stage, though ambitious for a first undertaking. In short, it indirectly serves as a commentary on the children of today, and the complex problems they must navigate through in the world of today.

In a production which contains such heavy themes, it is most important that a director is able to direct actors and block scenes in such a way as to portray such heavy themes realistically without becoming over the top and making the production difficult to watch, and that an appropriate cast is assembled which can cope with such themes. In the case of this production, director George Torbay has taken a symbolic approach in effectively blocking each scene in a representative way that is extremely clever and quite beautiful to watch, and the cast which has been assembled to breathe life into the confronting production is most adequate with each actor giving exceptional performances.

Jack Doherty as Melchior
Jack Doherty (centre) is confident as Melchior. Photo supplied.

Jack Doherty is lead character Melchior, a headstrong, well read teenager who has knowledge and maturity well beyond his years, and as the driving force for most of the musical, Doherty provides much depth and substance to Melchior. Doherty initially shows confidence in delivery of dialogue and physicalisation, but later gives a more emotional delivery to indicate a change in Melchior, as he begins to learn of the serious consequences of his actions.

Wendla Frau Bergmann Spring Awakening
Amy Roff (right) is exceptional as Wendla. Also pictured Eliza O'Connell (left) as Wendla's mother, Frau Bergman. Photo Supplied
As Melchior's love interest Wendla, Amy Roff is exceptional. A direct contrast to Melchior's character, Roff gives a nice contrast to Doherty's delivery, through a deliberately less confident delivery and frequent touching of her body, to reflect Wendla's initial innocence and naivety, but yearning desire to discover her body, and later delivers dialogue at a faster pace, to reflect Wendla being overcome by fear at learning of the consequences of her behaviour with Melchior.

Jemma Allen and Darcy Bensted give fine performances as Ilse and Martha respectively, whose slow delivery of dialogue and deliberate and frequent fiddling with their costume effectively portray the result of having their childhood innocence stripped from them through abuse, the effects of which are permanent. Both actors also have beautiful vocals which are a delight to listen to, and their duet The Dark I Know Well is truly heartbreaking and distressing to watch.

female cast
Spring Awakening female cast. Photo supplied.

Duncan Carmichael is distressed and anxious teenager Moritz and gives a forceful delivery in the earlier scenes, to reflect Moritz's anxiety and desire to learn about sexuality, but later, gives a more disturbing delivery, constantly wailing as Moritz struggles to find a way out of his struggles. Of particular interest, is the later scenes where Moritz is facing serious distress as a consequence of his struggles to learn about himself and find connection with someone, where Carmichael's delivery is most unsettling to watch, for all the right reasons.

male cast spring awakening
Spring Awakening male cast. Photo provided

Though the quality and depth of acting of the preceding actors give much substance to the musical, clever and innovative set and lighting design, choreography and a sufficient band, complete the excellent standards of this production.

Set design by Jack Doherty (leader), Samuel Schubert, Eliza O'Connell and Jemma Allen sees two straight and orderly rows of antique brown dining chairs aligned on either side of a large elevated square stage, which are either brought on stage by the actors in such as way as to reflect a particular location, or occupied by actors who are not featured in the current scene, but who are still ever-present, watching the action taking place on stage. This set also features a large dead tree surrounded by dead leaves collected at its trunk, placed upstage centre, which is then illuminated accordingly with clever lighting design by Chris Snape, which sees a diverse range of colours and hues used effectively to indicate time of day and location and to contribute to the mood. Of particular interest, is the final scene and Song of Purple Summer, whereby bright yellow, white and purple lighting is used to excellent effect, to convey a glimmer of hope. In short, this lighting design is a true feast for the eyes, and has an incredible ability to evoke emotion.

With regards to choreography, while this musical contains no opportunity for sensational dance numbers as such, the precise interpretive choreography by Zoe Komazec and Matt Geronimi is still breathtaking and incredible to watch. Komazec and Geronimi maximise every opportunity for clever movement which complements Torbay's blocking in such a way to cleverly contribute effectively to the storyline.

However, a musical is not complete without the music itself, and in this case, Paul Sinkinson adequately leads his live six-piece band through the score, and though only a small band, the sound which is created (with help from sound designer Jamie Mensforth), is sufficient and pleasing to the ear, with each note played with precision.

Therefore, though this production is the first for students of Adelaide University's Bachelor of Music Theatre Course, it is not in the slightest bit obvious as the production is polished and quite a beauty to behold. It is the case, therefore, that Adelaide University has experienced an awakening of their own, specifically, the awakening of quality musical theatre productions which are of the highest quality, and give other amateur companies something to aim for. If something of this calibre can be produced after only one year of study, the future of this course will be something incredible, and although the future is unknown, what is known, is that it will be exciting and something to look forward to. The only way to go now is up.
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Why? to experience exceptional musical theatre
Where: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
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