Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spring Awakening Shocks and Sings

Christy Altomare and Jake Epstein
Courtesy photos

If you want to relive adolescence, its joys and agonies, you’ll probably love “Spring Awakening,” brought to the Community Center Theatre by California Musical Theatre. The musical, featuring rock and alternative rock, delivers a shock, like sticking a finger in a hot light socket.

The story is based on a long-suppressed 1891 play by German playwright Frank Wedekind. It’s set in the repressive, authoritarian climate of 19th century German culture, yet expressed through today’s rebellious music and attitudes. It starts with a pubescent Wendla (Christy Altomare) singing “Mama Who Bore Me” to her mother (Angela Reed, who plays all the adult women). The song is the inevitable child’s question about where babies come from and receives an evasive answer.

We’re then introduced to the boys in a classroom, where they’re stiffly at military attention as the tyrannical teacher (John Wojda, who plays all the adult men) cracks them with a stick if they fail to parrot, in Latin, lines from Virgil’s Aeneid. The chief victim is Moritz Stiefel (Taylor Trensch, photo at right), whose defender is the forthright Melchior Gabor (Jake Epstein).

As the story progresses we meet other youngsters, four girls and four boys plus ensemble, struggling with their newfound sexuality, with scenes of masturbation and homosexual experimentation, plus mention of pregnancy, abortion and death. There is, though, no nudity except for a glimpse of male buttocks during a copulation scene. The first act deals with discovery; the second with consequences.

The producers alert us that “Spring Awakening” is “recommended for theatergoers 17 and over,” presumably because those younger haven’t finished going through what we see on stage. Yet, even for adults, there’s a dazzled uneasiness we experience when memories of our early vulnerability resurface during a spectacular production.

“Spring Awakening” won eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical, Best Director (Michael Mayer), Best Book (Steven Sater), Best Choreography (Bill T. Jones), Best Orchestrations (Duncan Sheik), and Best Lighting Design (Kevin Adams).

The scenic design, by Christine Jones, along with the lighting design, deserves special attention. We, as audience, seem to enter the stage because actors occupy two galleries of seats, one on each side wall. The eleven-piece band, led by Jared Stein, plays in front of the rear wall, which is indefinable but made colorful with lights. In fact the dynamic lighting heightens many of the scenes.

“Spring Awakening” continues through November 15 at the Community Center Theatre at 1301 L Street in downtown Sacramento. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays. There will be an additional performance on Sunday, November 8, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets, ranging from $18 to $65, are on sale at the Community Center Box Office, the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office (1419 H Street), outlets and online at You can order by phone at (916) 557-1999, (916) 808-5181, or (800) 225-2277. Group orders for 12 or more are available by calling (916) 557-1198.

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