Thursday, November 21, 2013

Spring Awakening by UNM Dept Theatre & Dance

"Spring Awakening" is one of those musicals with a cult-like following, audience members ask each other, "Is this your first "Spring"?" Well, this was my first "Spring," and with a controversial reputation preceding it, I had high expectations of this first experience without knowing exactly what it would be like. And, like so many firsts, it was beautiful, scary, ugly and tender all at once, thanks to the pool of talent currently producing work at the University of New Mexico's Theatre and Dance department.

Photo by Pat Berrett
Set in a provincial German town in 1891, it may at first seem difficult to understand why this musical is so massively popular, especially with younger performers and audiences. But with universal themes of rebellion, insecurity, curiosity, burgeoning love, rejection and questioning faith comes the answer; it's a story about being young and yearning to know everything while still searching for your own identity. The tragedy of this tale, we find, does not lie with the youths who question so much of their world's faith, its gender roles and, most particularly, its unwillingness to discuss sexuality. The tragedy is the unwillingness of the leaders, parental, scholastic and spiritual alike, to speak the truth to their youth and empower them to make enlightened decisions.

Photo by Pat Berrett
Stafford Douglas plays Melchior, the forward thinking rebel who's cocky, yet yearning for love. Wendla, the inquisitive young woman who plays opposite Melchior, is tender-hearted, although conflicted between the expectations others have of her. Dramatically, Andee Schray finds Wendla's varying emotions, and has an exquisite voice to bring to the role, with inflections that reminded me of Sarah Mclachlan at times, both haunting and beautiful. Douglas tells the arch of Melchior's tale by showing us the emotional transformation that circumstances put him through, finding the distinction between Melchior's arrogance and, later, his humility. Knowing that love and heartache in their world are inevitably intertwined, their chemistry-filled duet's lyrics remind us, "You're gonna be wounded / You're gonna be my wound / I'm gonna bruise you / You're going to be my bruise."

Photo by Pat Berrett
Around these two lovers we meet others who give voice to their own repression. In Moritz, Cory Meehan gives a touchingly honest approach to the parental rejection and perceived failure he believes himself to be. Never giving in to the pathos, Meehan makes acting choices, such a tender smile in some of the most humiliating of moments onstage, that give his character frightening depth and realism. Equally moving was "The Dark I Know Well," primarily Martha's song, played by Alexandra Uranga, in her embarrassing long sleeves and overly tight braid (examples of how the costuming extends each character's story, as seen through designer Erik Flores' eyes). There is an emotional void you see in children who have lived through grievous parental abuse, and Uranga finds this atmosphere without once slipping into something maudlin. Quite simply, the moment moved me to tears.

Photo by Pat Berrett
With a score whose sound is part modern, with electric guitar and bass, and part antiquated, with violin and viola, the music underscores the parallels between a repressive time long gone by, and the restrictions we continue to face today. As a tale that is quickly reaching modern audiences, director Kathleen Clawson cast this ensemble tightly, and they function together neatly within the whole of the story. Never to be overlooked, the show featured live music, complementing the cast's strong vocals, led by music director Paul Roth, weaving their vocal talents with the strings' melodies and creating this musical's unique and often haunting sound.

For more about the UNM Theatre & Dance Department, their performances at Rodey Hall and other venues, you can visit their website at , or call their office at 505-277-4332.

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