by Lynn on February 15, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Lower Ossington Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Heather Braaten
Set by Michael Galloro
Costumes by Erin Gerofsky
Lighting by Mikael Kangas
Musical Direction by Robert Wilkinson
Choreography by Adam Sergison
Starring: Shannon Dickens
Scott Labonte
Jacqueline Martin
Andrew Soutter
Tiera Watts
Mitch Wedgewood

A well performed but overly amplified production. Much of the wonderful lyrics are lost because of it.

The Story. Spring Awakening is based on the Frank Wedekind story (1890-1891) of the same name. It’s about teenaged angst–sexual, emotional and psychological–in provincial Germany between 1890-1894. Pressure to succeed from the school system and from parents is crushing. Wendla wants to know where babies come from and her mother is too embarrassed to tell her anything other than “The stork.” Melchior is a scholar and wise in many ways. He teaches Wendla where babies really come from. Moritz struggles in school and life and needs help and understanding to get through and doesn’t get it. A school friend is sexually abused by her father and her friends are horrified and don’t know what to do.

The Production. Steven Sater took the original Frank Wedekind play, kept the time period for the story, but wrote the book and lyrics with a modern sensibility. His musical partner, Duncan Sheik, wrote a wonderful rock score to go with it. The result was the explosive, moving rock musical, Spring Awakening, that opened on Broadway in 2006 and won a slew of Tony Awards, including best Musical.

Michael Galloro’s set is simple—chairs in rows represent the school room of the students. The chairs are easily removed and re-configured to create new scenes efficiently. The six piece band is split between two sides of the stage. Erin Gerofsky’s costumes of breeches and vests for the men and long dresses for the women suggest Germany in the 1890s. The hair cuts also suggest another time.

Director Heather Braaten and choreographer Adam Sergison keep the cast moving, suggesting the urgency of their lives. These characters have raging hormones, heightened emotions, anxiety, depression, secrets, and such emotional burdens it’s obvious.

The scene with Wendla and Melchior when they discover sex is effective but not over the edge with nudity. A joke of the New York production is that whenever a song was about to be sung, the cast would subtly take out a hand-held microphone from inside their jacket label (for men) or in a pocket in their skirts for the women. It is a rock musical after all. That conceit is kept here, as I’m sure it is for any production of this musical.

The performances are fine. As Melchior, Scott Labonte is confident and knowing; as Wendla, Jacqueline Martin is sweet, innocent, and frightened at the world she’s introduced to. As Moritz, Andrew Soutter is a lost soul, crushed by school work, trying to please his parents, until he gives in to despair.

Comment. I guess the cast have strong singing voices but in this electronically amplified world, it’s hard to tell. They all have had musical training at a cross section of good schools, but I wonder if working with body microphones AND hand microphones, as they do here, are high on the list of the education? Do they know how to project over an orchestra? I wonder.

Of course the norm is that the band is amplified AND the cast is amplified. Why? Who’s deaf in this equation? And at the Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT), more often than not, I get a sense that the sound is too big for the room. The cast aren’t in a 1500 seat theatre. They are in a wide 200 seat theatre. Why the blaring sound? Steven Sater wrote his lyrics so we could hear them. Too often in this production I couldn’t make them out, and I know this show well.

I know that musicals these days are miked, but there is a balance between an amplified orchestra and cast. How come they can’t achieve this balance at LOT? How can a Broadway music-lover enjoy these musicals at LOT if they are being pummelled by a wall of blaring sound?

Maurice Galpern and the Lower Ossington Theatre Company presents.

First performance: February 5, 2015
Saw it: February 7, 2015
Closes: March 8, 2015
Cast: 13; 7 men, 6 women
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

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