A sleepy ‘Spring Awakening’ at Media Theatre

Erin Burniston portrays Wendla with innocence and curiosity and Schyler Conaway is magnetic in the role of Melchior.
Erin Burniston portrays Wendla with innocence and curiosity and Schyler Conaway is magnetic in the role of Melchior.
Posted: April 23, 2012

There’s no better time than spring for a production of Spring Awakening. Media Theatre, no doubt, hopes its regional entry will produce a major bloom among the area’s “Guilty Ones,” as the show’s ardent followers call themselves. And the discovery of new, youthful passions — their suppression and release, dangers and pleasures — are what this musical is all about.

Adapted from German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1891 drama by lyricist Steven Sater and singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening, at its best, powers through its rock score, an intoxicating adrenaline-and-hormone cocktail destroying children’s bodies and innocence along the way. Wedekind’s original, which follows a group of boys and girls through the last half of their school year, stared down suicide, incest, hypocrisy, sadism, masochism, nihilism, homosexuality, abortion, and rape, and under the stewardship of director Michael Mayer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, only the story’s central rape didn’t make it to Broadway.

Media knows better than to mess with success, and to that end, Robert Klimowski re-creates the original’s brick-walled set, making room for its customary onstage seating. Erica Hoelscher reproduces the kids’ iconic look, from the boys’ close-cropped gray woolen jackets and short pants to the girls’ Victorian dresses.

Director Jesse Cline also tries to keep the faith, but less successfully. He picked a magnetic, vulpine Melchior, the class’ alpha male, in Schyler Conaway. And Erin Burniston’s Wendla delivers innocence and curiosity with a sweet soprano. But while Jack Raymond’s Moritz has the right appearance — an awkward stringbean of a kid — he’s unable to modulate his voice and doesn’t always remain on key. Similarly, there are too many duets that never meet in the middle, too many times when the ensemble sings a beat late.

No choreographer appears in the show’s program, and though Cline attempts to mimic Jones’ stylized dance movements, what looked like compulsive tics in the original, repetitive arm swings and head-beating that explode into a free-for-all, only appear out of place and robotic here, almost comical. More comical still are a pair of embarrassingly weak slaps delivered by the cast’s two “adult” characters, Michelle Eugene and John D. Smitherman — this in a show in which brutality is adulthood’s currency.

Most frustrating, during Hanschen’s (Mason Quilty) seduction of his schoolmate Ernst (Ryan Streit), everything coalesces. Their reprise of “The Word of Your Body,” first sung by Wendla and Melchior, shows more tenderness, more subtlety. Unfortunately, it doesn’t arrive until halfway through the second act, too long to wait for some momentum. Maybe time will tighten up this production’s slackness, but judging by the tepid reactions of my teen companions — Spring Awakening newbies both — this spring won’t see a new crop of Guilty Ones blossoming in Media.


Spring Awakening

Through May 20 at Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media. Tickets: $44-$49. Information: 610-891-0100 or www.MediaTheatre.org.

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