MLOC’s production of Spring Awakening has introduced Melbourne audiences to many rising stars of the music theatre scene. A cast consisting of mostly young performers, aided by two very capable and strong ‘adults’, the commitment and focus demonstrated by all performers was chilling to watch. From the moment you entered the theatre, you could feel the sense of passion and urgency to tell this story – a story of how one’s act of rebellion can cause havoc within not only their own, but in others’ lives.
Director Angela Phillips staged the production with great truth and honesty. She was successfully able to integrate the relationships of these troubled teenagers, without leading to them to be filled with only stereotypical angst and aggression. The performances, fine-tuned by Phillips, were able to explore the more nuanced details of how this need to rebel may arise. While she was definitely assisted by a swift and well-written book by Steven Sater, Phillips creates a world that breathes nothing but a sense of freedom, and, refreshingly, an openness to be who you want to be.
She also incorporated the 19th German heritage with great respect and insight. However, the treatment of this provocative text through a humorous lens, at times, came across as questionable. While yes, it was indeed funny, and, yes, it worked in most points, there were a few moments where it definitely took away from the true intentions and objectives of the scenes. This left audience members laughing, but slightly confused at the plot. Phillip’s choreography was punchy and explosive, however still retaining a lovely simplistic style. Even though at times the choreography felt contrived, it was executed with great passion by the talented cast.
Music director Malcolm Huddle conducted a small but tight band, navigating very well through a challenging rock score. His work, particularly on the ensemble singing, was very impressive. There was a really great blend between the female and male voices that was always a treat to listen to – numbers such as ‘I Believe’ were definite highlights . However, the placement of band on stage behind the performers was, at times, distracting. This consequently interrupted the audience’s opportunity to become fully immersed into the story at hand.
Lighting design by Linton Wilkinson was inspired with many memorable moments, but some choices caused some audience members discomfort. While it may have assisted in the development of a rocky, contemporary vibe, its consistency as a motif ultimately became a distraction for patrons. Wilkinson’s sound work also at times fell short, particularly during Act 2. However, these are technical issues that I’m sure will be fixed after opening night.
The leads, Giles Adams (Melchior) and Alannah Parkin (Wendla) both displayed immense passion for their roles, and also great emotional depth and commitment to exploring their characters. However, there did not seem to be much chemistry between the pair, which impacted the audience’s ability to feel connected and support their relationship. While their duet ‘The World of Your Body’ was nicely sung, the connection did not feel as a strong, and consequently, the meaning of the song became slightly lost.
Notable performances included Daniel Nieborski as Moritz, offering great energy and emotional access. He commanded the stage with no hesitations, particularly evident during ‘The Bitch of Living’. Nieborksi’s take on Moritz as an anxious, neurotic teen, coming to terms with his sexuality left the audience in absolutely awe. Dylan Tijan and Ashley Wilsnach as the adorable Ernst and Hänschen demonstrated palpable chemistry in their moments together, as well as beautiful and real vocal qualities. Natasha Rayner was similarly impressive, with a beautiful voice and glistening stage presence in the role of Ilse.
Sarah Somers and Dan Bellis, as a variety of more mature characters, both showed great versatility and craftsmanship. Each characterisation was grounded within great truth and authenticity, leaving no choice questioned or queried. These two truly sublime actors stood as standouts of this production, and deservingly so. They presented breathtaking work, offering not only a wicked sense of humour, but also great pathos.
MLOC’s Spring Awakening has proven the strength of music theatre as an avenue to express, discuss and even advocate for the importance of adolescents within our society. This cast, definitely this production’s major strength, should be commended for their commitment and bravery for wanting to tell this powerful story. A show well worth seeing.