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How a warehouse became “Spring Awakening” (Stagecraft) March 13, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Musicals.
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Every now and then everything comes together in the right venue in the right way at the right time — such is the current production of SPRING AWAKENING I have just directed for 4th Wall in Jackson (it runs through March 25th). The comments we’ve heard most consistently during this remarkable run so far are a) what an amazing cast, and b) what a cool venue!

When approached by theater owners Marjy and Gary Minix about directing, we chose Spring Awakening partly because its a great fit for the talented younger actors that comprise the company — but also because it seemed the perfect venue for the show. Located on the second floor of a retail/warehouse type building on S. Mechanic in Jackson, MI, it conveyed the “industrial” look and feel I wanted. With no audience member more than 8 feet away from the stage, it was the intimate sort of location you might find in NYC for a pre-Broadway workshop. Say, of a show like Spring Awakening.

When I first saw the space last summer, it looked like this:

My imagination ran wild and very shortly I had a set design in place:

As the actors rehearsed and the show began to take shape, so did the acting space — and by early February it had taken this form already:

Those were the basics of the set — a stage platform for the band, with two steps that run around it for acting areas (from the outset, the idea was sort of  an alt-rock concert “unplugged”.) The musical director decided on keyboard, percussion, bass, and guitar – and the show was born.

Before adding lights, everything had taken shape:

And a few nights later, once the lights and sound had been added, we had what became Spring Awakening — as you have always seen it but never seen it…with the cast scattered through the audience in seats, and a participation experience that makes the show feel visceral and real. The sound is terrific, with every word audible. But the style of the show is inimitable, and called for the industrial look we employed.  Mama who bore me explodes in light, while the Song of Purple Summer turns neon purple:

Experience the show yourself for the next two weeks:

Spring Awakening, 4th Wall Downtown – 218 S. Mechanic, Jackson, MI. Tickets very limited, call (517) 414-4436 to reserve. Limited to no more than 50 audience per performance.

Spring Awakening at Dexter Community Players January 21, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals.
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DCP is currently presenting Spring Awakening, the 2006 Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik alt-rock musical that won a slew of Tony awards and was recently revived to acclaim.

This production breaks with traditional staging and as such is somewhat hard to review since the convention of having the singers/performers always on stage with the band entering scenes as needed and singing backup throughout is somewhat different here — that changes the alt-rock-concert approach to more one of a standard book musical and I’m not sure that works. There are also specific themes of  disconnection, dissimulation, unconnectedness and misunderstanding that are incorrectly addressed here. I won’t go into that – there are 110 years of doctoral dissertations written on Wedekinds original source material play.

DCP has assembled an excellent cast of singers in a reduced-size cast that for the most part works well. They are consistently overwhelmed by the orchestra throughout, whether that is solos or ensemble numbers, sound here is problematic throughout. Mics dropped in and out during the first half but seemed better in the second half. A general note: crank your vocalists up absolutely as loudly as possible without getting feedback. No need to sound natural in this setting, just crank out the sound because this show is about the lyrics and when you can’t make them out, well…

There’s a great performance by Laura Chodoroff as Wendla — she is a young performer that I have always loved directing, and I have always hoped there would be an appropriate larger part for her, and this is it. Her acting is spot on, and her vocal work here is terrific. Also great is Chris Joseph as Moritz. He delivers powerhouse vocals and an angst-ridden character that you feel for as the drama progresses. Matt Wallace has a good voice but seemed totally uncommitted as Melchior and had little chemistry with Wendla. His later scenes were better when they were more self-centered…albeit his mic was working by that point too.

Costumes by Kristi Kuick look great. Lighting cues were frequently missed and sometimes missing altogether on the wide stage. Brian Rose’s musical direction is terrific and his band sounds fantastic, if far too loud for the space.

Spring Awakening continues through January 29th at Copland Auditorium in Dexter Michigan. http://www.dextercommunityplayers.org for tickets.



Remarkable Spring Awakening in Maumee (Review) 3B Productions October 11, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Community Theater, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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Run don’t walk to get the remaining tickets for 3BProductions outstanding production of Spring Awakening at the Maumee Indoor Theatre…heck here’s the link, just buy your tickets…3BProductions.org

Director/Choreographer Stephanie L. Stephan has done some slick professional work, and her ensemble cast are remarkable top to bottom…kudos also to music director/conductor Todd Schreiber for superb work on the difficult Duncan Sheik alt-rock score both vocally and with the excellent 7-piece orchestra.

Teen angst in the late 19th Century (though really timeless in reality) set to Sheik’s brilliant score play out the story of young love but the themes of the musical are much bigger, and darker than that: abuse, ignorance, sexuality, isolation, failure, suicide, death, rebirth. The Broadway production won 8 Tonys including Best Musical, though it was also criticized for its unrelenting view of all adults as evil and ignorant.

Always strong Libby Bruno (Wendla) and Jimmy Sherwood (Melchior) turn in powerful and emotion-filled performances, but the entire supporting cast is superb. Connor Gavin is excellent as tortured failing student Moritz. Joel Logsdon and Courtney Gray show versatility in playing all of the adult roles. But everyone is terrific: Kristin Kukic (Ilse), Jeremy Davis (George), Phil Hughes (Ensemble), Steven Kiss (Ernst), Sarah Rohen (Thea), Esther Swain (Anna), Jordan Benavente (Otto), Matt Zwyer (Ensemble), Tyler Seybold (Ensemble), William Edmondson (Ensemble), Meg Grzeszczak (Ensemble), Kayla Haase (Ensemble), Lauren Kotarski (Martha), and Eric Wolff (Hanschen). Kudos to every single one of these excellent young performers.

Stephan understands the deep emotion inherent in this piece, and she keeps the show zooming along at just over two hours with intermission. She’s equally adept at small intimate moments as well as big expansive stage energy. Witness the work between Bruno and Sherwood where each look and hand motion has meaning…or the sublime scene between Kiss and Wolff where powerful themes of love, submission, dominance, and connection are blocked in subtle but spot on moves that last only moments but convey everything. Then revel in rebellion and pent up teen energy in the explosive “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked” And I dare anybody, literally dare anybody, to not well up during a particularly brilliantly staged funeral sequence late in the show — and not for the reasons you might think.

Oh, this is a good time to mention that you should absolutely not take your kids along to see this strictly adults-only fare and that’s not a casual warning.

As for the rest, blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Very Highly Recommended.

Spring Awakening continues through October 12th only.

Top Notch cast leads “Spring Awakening” tour in Detroit (Review), but audience ignorance just as entertaining. April 27, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Theatre.
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To be certain, Spring Awakening (aka the Duncan Sheik musical) is an acquired taste and is not for everybody. I personally think it is riveting must-see musical theater for adults…and I do mean adults. And the current tour that has landed at the Fisher Theater through May 9th is simply top-notch.

Wendla (Christy Altomare) and Melchior (Jake Epstein)

For those who have not seen the show before, we’re not talking about the awakening of flowers and blossoms in the springtime here — the show explores frank discussions (and misinformation) amongst teens and their ignorant parents in the late 1800’s about sex in all its forms, and the tragic outcome of misinformation and ignorance gone awry. It’s not for pre-teens, and it certainly isn’t for some teens.

Apparently, it isn’t for some adults either, as some of the ignorant and outlandish comments I heard during intermission and post-show made clearly apparent. I wasn’t aware that some Detroiters were so ignorant themselves, so the show speaks to our time as well as that in which the original play (with a long history of being banned and censored) was written upon which the musical is based. I’ve previously seen the production on Broadway and in East Lansing where I didn’t hear such intermission ignorance, so maybe it should have played the Power Center in Ann Arbor instead of the Fisher Theater in Detroit — none the less, it’s a provocative evening of alternative rock theater.

The terrific cast, lead by Christy Altomare as Wendla and Jake Epstein as Melchior rock the house. The voices in this show are great – and there is some fine, subtle acting from many of the young cast. There is also plenty of very un-subtle  acting, just the way you would expect. “The Bitch of Living” near the top of the first act, and “Totally Fucked” in the second act are true ensemble standouts. “The Word of Your Body” is simply lyrical in the hands of Altomare and Epstein.

Highly recommended — but, seriously, leave your young ones and your grandmother at home. And probably leave opinionated Uncle Mike at home as well, since this isn’t a show meant to change his world-view, merely to illustrate the danger of his ignorance.  Playing at the Fisher Theater, Detroit, through May 9th. Ticketmaster.com.