Reviewed by Judy Richter
Ignorance and repression are a dangerous, sometimes tragic combination, as seen in "Spring Awakening," presented by Foothill Music Theatre and the Foothill Theatre Arts Department.
Set in a provincial German town in the 1890s, this musical focuses on a group of young adolescents who have little understanding of the changes they're undergoing. The adults in their lives often exacerbate the problem. The central characters are 14-year-old Wendla (Juliana Lustenader); her boyfriend, Melchior (Jason Rehklau); and his friend and schoolmate, Moritz (Ryan Mardesich). Of the three, only the scholarly Melchior knows about reproduction.
In the meantime, the boys and their friends are dealing with all sorts of sexual fantasies, and one of Wendla's friends, Martha (Holly Smolik), suffers from her father's beatings and sexual abuse. Tragedies ensue, but hope arises.
Based on a controversial 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, "Spring Awakening" features music by Duncan Sheik with lyrics and book by Steven Sater. After its New York premiere in 2006, it went on to win eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Although it's billed as a rock musical, which could connote loud and raucous, many of its songs are calmer. Foothill's seven-member orchestra, seated in a corner of the stage, includes a violin, viola and cello for a more refined sound. The musicians are led from the keyboard by musical director Mark Hanson.
Except for Caitlin Lawrence Papp and Justin Karr, who portray all of the adults, the cast is comprised mostly of college-age performers. Although they're older than the characters they play, most of them still look young enough.
Director Milissa Carey, aided by choreographer Amanda Folena, has assembled an energetic, committed cast. The three principals -- Lustenader as Wendla, Rehklau as Melchior and Mardesich as Moritz -- are especially noteworthy. So, too, are Papp and Karr, who assume various personas as the adults. Beyond that, everyone in the cast deserves kudos for embodying adolescent angst.
Helping to set the stage are Bruce McLeod, production supervisor; Ken Kilen, sound; Rebecca Van De Vanter, lighting; Carlos Acevedo, scenery; and Julie Engelbrecht, costumes.
Although the show has obvious cachet for young people -- who were the main demographic in the first Saturday performance -- it's not suitable for younger children because of its sensitive, adult issues and occasional rough language. However, it can and does appeal to more mature audiences who appreciate an interesting plot, strong characters and solid production values.