SPRING AWAKENING – THE MUSICAL. Directed by Paul Griffiths. Choreographed by Genna Galloway. Musical direction by Garth Tavares. Design by Greg King. Photographs by Jesse Kramer. Waterfront Theatre School Students. Artscape Arena.
MEGAN FURNISS reviews
I was not the ideal person to go to watch Spring Awakening – The Musical. I adore Frank Wedekind, the German Swiss playwright, actor, satirist, maverick, sexual adventurer, political prisoner who wrote Spring Awakening, the play, in a turbulent and puritanical Germany in 1891. I appeared in Spring Awakening as one of the young girls, in one of my first ever productions at UCT drama school under the brilliant direction of Christopher Weare in 1984.
It was an extraordinary and eye-opening experience, and production. Until that moment I had had no idea that ideas, protest, satire, irony, deviance, and defiance could happen through characters on stage. It introduced me to a dark world full of undercurrents, desires, oppressed feelings, and of course my own unresolved childhood secrets. It defined and shaped my view of theatre – what it can and ought to be.
And now Spring Awakening – The Musical
I was sceptical when I first heard about Spring Awakening – The Musical; probably more than most, because I don’t understand the “musicalisation” of non-musicals. (I also need to re-confess my dislike of most musicals in general). Honestly, it felt as absurd as, I don’t know, Schindler’s List – The Musical. I know that Spring Awakening – The Musical premiered on Broadway in 2006 and was revived in 2015 where it won more than a couple of Tony Awards, but I have had no interest in seeing it. It didn’t make sense to me.
I had to overcome what was definitely an unfair bias against the show itself last night. I really didn’t like it, for many reasons. But. I want to write about what I did like, and that is the students.
There were many stand out performances, both by the leads and the ensemble, and there were many moments of genuine commitment, skill, confidence, and dedication to the craft. The standard of performance was extremely high and most of these students are almost ready to step into the professional space. Sarah Falconer and Thinus Viljoen held their own with complex and challenging lead roles, and they managed to act brilliantly, then sing beautifully, and be vulnerable and emotional at the same time.
But it wasn’t only them. They were superbly supported by the other cast members whose focus, characterisation, dancing, singing and teamwork made them a pleasure to watch. I particularly loved Nicolette Fernandes as Ilse, who is riveting, magnetic and moving.
Two different productions fight for space
I struggled to buy the irrational contrast between naturalistic scenes (in varying German accents) and the Glee-style singing (in very Broadway American accents) and dancing. It was like watching two different productions fight for stage space, but this is not the fault of the performers who jumped in to both styles and executed them flawlessly. I struggled with the inconsistencies in style and treatment – boys with modern hair and idiosyncratic modernisations like silver chains, with very traditional clothing and language. I felt like the musical moments, both from a lyrics and choreographic perspective, detracted from the dark meaning of the text, but I thought the students were brave and bold and powerful in overcoming these things.
While Spring Awakening – The Musical provides many age appropriate parts for musical theatre students it needs a very clear vision and tightly held reins for it to succeed. Sex, masturbation, violence and S&M are challenging for young people to pull off. They mostly did, but I would have loved to have seen a deeper, more detailed understanding of the text and its context. This would have made it really moving. Hang on. Probably what I am saying is, do the play. The awesome, challenging, dark, frightening, shattering play.
What: Spring Awakening
Where and when: Artscape Arena from 10 to 20 July 2019