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Actors' Theatre wraps Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening with two sold out shows

Actors' Theatre wrapped their run of Spring Awakening this past weekend. This is a review of the Friday, December 16th performance at Spectrum Theater.
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Teen angst is timeless, and when done right can win a few Tony Awards (read: eight), as Spring Awakening, the rock musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, did in 2007. An adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1892 “children’s tragedy” play of the same title, the show blurs the line between past and present, and journeys loudly through the caverns and peaks of adolescence. Though the musical itself gets a bit tangled (much like teenagedom), the brave, young cast at Actors’ Theatre untangled threads to reveal a performance of equal parts vulnerability and rock-star bravado.

Set in 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening is a theatrical bildungsroman, tackling the concept of taboo and its repercussions, which for the characters includes abortion, abuse, and suicide. For female lead Wendla, played by Maggie Nye, her struggle revolves around a mother who shields her from the birds and the bees, while her male counterpart Melchior, played by Addison Reid Coe, grapples with the notions of truth and authority. In between readings of Proust and meadow meetings with Wendla, Melchior also tries to aid friend Moritz (Duncan McCargar) with his phantasmagorical sex angel, which coupled with his father’s disapproval brings about his untimely demise.

Each of the leads held their own, Nye pairing puppy dog eyes with a voice far beyond her years, and Coe perfecting the art of brooding heartthrob.  McCargar’s portrayal of Moritz tapped into the nervous torment of adolescence that is both imagined and forced upon him; his character is perhaps the most complex, and McCargar exposed these complexities with intriguing grace. Malia Huffman gave a chilling performance as Martha, her voice soulful yet wounded during “The Dark I Know Well,” a song revealing secrets of child abuse.  

Though SpringAwakening represented debut performances on the Actors’ Theatre stage for over half the show’s ensemble, including Nye and McCargar, the production had a veteran’s touch. From casting to the utilization of the stage, Actors’ demonstrated (yet again) that it takes more than challenging subject matter to engage an audience. Music Director Scott Patrick Bell and Chereographer  Kyle Amanda Dutkiewicz stayed true to the show’s vision of dramatic lead-ins and hard-hitting steps, at times quite unexpectedly as was the case with the number “Totally F***ed”.

Actors’ show had more of an old world feel, and could have incorporated more contemporary elements in the costuming and the set. Part of Spring Awakening’s strength lies in its seamless connection between the past and the present, exposing how as society progresses, certain issues can remain in a state of contention; in the Actors’ production, the modern-day elements weren’t as evident, though Grand Rapids as a geographical context provided an added layer of depth to the examination of what can and cannot be talked about.

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