By Lorraine Wardle
“Spring Awakening,” which opened Friday at the Oakland Center for the Arts, is not your typical Broadway musical. It is not cheerful or uplifting. It is not vapid or silly. But it is truly amazing.
“Spring Awakening” is an example of the new style of musical theater. It is dark and brooding and explores serious, adult themes. But it does so with deep, compelling characters and a beautiful, catchy score.
“Spring Awakening” is adapted from an 1892 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, which centered on a group of teenagers discovering sexuality. The play was controversial and often banned because of its sexual themes.
In 2006, the musical adaptation opened on Broadway and earned eight Tony awards. Like its namesake, the musical is about a group of young troubled teens in the late 19th century.
Wendla is an innocent, young girl whose mother refuses to explain reproduction to her, leaving the girl dangerously naive. Moritz is a young man who doesn’t understand puberty and is distracted and unsettled by it. Intellectual Melchior has learned about sex from books and is angry at the adults in his life for suppressing the information.
As Melchior, Moritz, and Wendla learn the truths about life and adulthood, they begin to lose their innocence and become rebellious. Along with their friends, the young teenagers discover their sexuality as well as abuse and treachery around them.
The dark themes in “Spring Awakening” are exposed and explored through songs by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik. Sheik’s modern-rock style music is moving and emotional, and Sater’s lyrics are beautifully poetic.
Director Liz Rubino and her cast have tackled the heavy subject matter and gorgeous musical score with maturity and professionalism.
Kayla Boye, as Wendla, opens the show with “Mama Who Bore Me,” lamenting her naivete and ignorance. Boye’s performance was sweet and sincere as the young girl struggling between the bliss of innocence and the need for knowledge.
Matthew Schomer’s Melchior was a force onstage, dominating the action and the rest of his cast. As Moritz, Craig Rotz Jr. was the embodiment of angst. His performance and his songs overflowed with emotion. Lindsay Kostelnik also impressed as the lost and broken Ilse. Kostelnik sang with a powerful, emotional voice that visibly moved the audience.
The entire cast formed an impressive ensemble that worked together perfectly.
Billie Anzevino’s choreography used modern dance and expressive hand movements that perfectly matched the show’s modern-rock style. The dancing added to the visual expression of the character’s emotional states.
Rubino’s set utilized many levels that kept the action moving around the stage while the bare, minimal design added to the stark, bleak tone of the play.
The heartbreaking subject matter and moving musical score combined with the extraordinary talent of the cast made “Spring Awakening” at the Oakland a beautiful and emotional production.
“Spring Awakening” continues tonight, Friday, Saturday and next Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Oakland Center for the Arts, 220 W. Boardman St. For reservations, call 330-746-0404.