Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Spring Awakening' Adapts Quite Nicely to College

Theater Overview

Spring Awakening
Ethel M. Barber Theater
at Northwestern University
Thru Feb. 26

I tend not to review--or especially rate--non-professional theater productions. Even given my very limited sphere of influence, it seems silly for me to essentially grade students (or community theater participants), particularly in cases when giving my honest assessment would appear to be critical of performers still primarily in a learning mode.

Thus, I'm not labeling this a review, didn't award a rating on my @@@@@ scale and wasn't even intending to write it. This despite the truth that I found Northwestern's production of Spring Awakening to be rather strong and well worth recommending, especially to those who haven't seen this musical--one of the very best theatrical creations of the past decade--elsewhere.

But in reviewing at my review from last May of a non-Equity touring production of the same show, I was reminded of my saying that I was looking forward to seeing Spring Awakening as it moved away from its splendid Broadway origins and somewhat devolving national tours to high energy--and perhaps, appropriately, a bit scruffy--renditions at small local theaters and upon college stages.

A couple months back, the show was done at a local level by Griffin Theater, but I wasn't all that ready to see it again and the review by the Tribune's Chris Jones wasn't insistent that I must.

For a variety of reasons--proximity to my home, a cheap ticket through HotTix, the track record of Northwestern's Theatre Program in spawning Broadway talent and curiosity as to how Duncan Sheik's (music) and Steven Sater's (lyrics) rock musical based on a 1892 German play (by Frank Wedekind) about repressed teens would work at the collegiate level--NU's production intrigued me enough that I couldn't resist taking a look.

As Spring Awakening is truly a dramatic work set to music, much of its glory can only be experienced on a first viewing (or after one's recollection has sufficiently diminished). So in seeing it for the 4th time in 5 years, I wasn't surprised by the story, intense onstage occurrences (including of an overtly sexual and tragic nature), teen angst driven choreography or the edgy lyrics. Thus it wasn't only because of the college cast that this production couldn't match the first one I saw, on Broadway in early 2007.

But without wanting to edge into a "review," I was genuinely impressed by the quality of the singing throughout all the main roles, and appreciated how director Geoff Button handled the "adult roles" in an unusual way (a single man and woman typically embody a variety of adult characters, but here they did so entirely offstage).

So albeit short on specifics and devoid of Seth Saith rating, you can consider this a recommendation. If you've never seen Spring Awakening, this rendition will provide a rather solid representation, and if you've liked the show in an earlier production, there's no reason you won't here. It may not be the very best version imaginable, but in giving it the old college try, the cast and crew at Northwestern succeed admirably.

You can check HotTix here or the box office here.

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