Oct. 15--"Spring Awakening" the musical currently rocking the stage at Civic Theatre demonstrates the high level of talent in the Lehigh Valley, even when the majority of the cast are still school students.
The mostly youthful ensemble cast has created a show that thrills with its music as much as it breaks your heart with its story.
With a cast of 13, that includes students as young as a high school sophomore through college, this a show that pulsates with both youthful energy and frustration.
The show directed by Williams Sanders, pairs a 19th-century German play with contemporary rock music in a show that is as exhilarating as it is devastating. The show which is premiering in the Lehigh Valley plays through Oct. 27 and features a percussive score by singer-songwriter turned Broadway composer Duncan Sheik.
The story follows a group of teens in late 19th-century Germany who are frustrated by their adolescent yearnings in a society where parents offer little, if any, information about sexuality. In an early scene, a mother played by JoAnn Wilchek Basist, finds herself unable to tell her daughter how babies are conceived, an act that will lead to devastating consequences.
"Spring Awakening" has a very different framework from a typical Broadway show. The characters step out of the dramatic confines of the story to grab microphones and perform as if in a rock concert, singing their thought and feeling out loud. The separation is emphasized with distinctive and dramatic lighting changes by lighting designer Will Morris
The girls, led by an innocent and determined Wendla is played to perfection by Easton High School junior Nina Attinello. In the opening song "Mama Who Bore Me," all five girls -- Attinello, Kayla Weinerman, Morgan Reilly, Gabrielle Whitney and Aria Sivick -- demonstrate impressive powerhouse voices.
We meet the boys in a an oppressive classroom under the stifling tutelage of a teacher played by Robert Torres. Michael Barthel, is affecting in his acting as Melchior, the boy who starts out too smart for his own good, and who comes to realize he actually has few answers.
His singing shines most in the song "Totally F -- -- -ed" which is one of the most exhilarating numbers in the show.
In "Bitch of Living," the ensemble of boys, which includes Johnny Schaffer, Bryan Dougherty, Tommy Walters and Williams West, proves as accomplished in their vocal talents as the girls. The number percolates with high energy movement from rhythmic stamping to jumping on chairs.
As Moritz, Alexander Michaels is amazing. As a boy struggling with both his studies and sexual dreams, Moritz is painfully unsure and insecure. But when he starts singing, he commands the stage with his huge rock-and-roll style voice. He is powerful in "Don't Do Sadness."
Standouts are Reilly as Isle who has a powerful moment in the yearning song "Blue Wind" and Weinerman as Martha who reveals she has been abused is the scathing "The Dark I Know Well."
A scene between Dougherty and Walters, as two of the boys who are gay, is touching.
Affecting staging included having the young people remain on stage and act as observers during scenes and even in some intimidate scenes, as props
The seven-piece orchestra with plenty of strings complimented the atmosphere, although at times slightly overpowered the singers.
The minimal set designed by Jason Sherwood features rough-hewn lumber that frames the action backed by the theater's cement wall.
"Spring Awakening" contains mature themes, sexual situations and strong language and is not suitable for all audiences. Parental discretion is advised.
"Spring Awakening," 7 p.m. Oct. 17, 18, 24 and 25; 8 p.m. Oct. 19 and 26 and 2 p.m. Oct. 27, Civic Theatre, 527 N 19th St., Allentown. Tickets: $25; $20, student and seniors on Thursdays, and $31: $28, students and seniors on other days. Civic also is offering last minute student rush tickets at the door for $15. http://www.CivicTheatre.com, 610-432-8943.
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