Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Theatre 360 Takes a Gamble: a youth-filled “Spring Awakening”
“Spring Awakening,” the rock-styled musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik based on Frank Wedekind’s banned 1890s play, has become something of a phenomenon. Young audiences stream to the theater to see a musical which speaks to them in vibrant and visceral ways about their own experience.
Still, that very visceral nature – the show is almost entirely centered on kids in their mid-teens and the repression of sexual desire – can make it a bit startling when the performers are actually the age of the characters. Yet, that is what Theatre 360 has done, first in Hollywood and then in Pasadena. And, for the most part, it works.
Theatre 360 is, in essence, an impressive training ground for the next generation of performers. All of their productions feature young people, playing all including the adult rolls. Here, the reversals – younger kids playing parent to older ones, teachers as youthful (or perhaps even more so) than their pupils – become part of the show’s charm, and part of its message, underscoring that adult reasoning of the period sounds far more childish than that of the youth.
Director/choreographer Devon Yates captures the energy of the piece. What his choreography lacks in complexity it makes up for in energy. His performers are, by and large, most impressive. The results create a kind of genuineness just that much more authentic than most productions.
Which is not to say the show is perfect. As Melchior, the young man whose determined search for enlightenment undoes his family and his friends, Cristian Guerrero has the intensity and the conviction, and sings well, though his tendency to look morose creates an occasional sameness with Andrew Moorhead’s tormented depressive, Moritz. Both play their parts to the hilt, and between them keep the show moving at just the right speed.
As Wendla, Melchior’s hapless love interest, Sarah Colt finds a delightful balance between innocence, fear and curiousity. Ally Merrill, creates a disturbing believability in one of Wendla’s close friends, the abuse victim Martha. Alex Hurren, as the egotistical and handsome Hanschen, and Daniel Moore as the sweet-faced adorer Ernst, handle their own complex material with a lack of self-consciousness which makes it work.
Indeed, the whole company vibrates with a professionalism which allows this piece to be genuine, compelling and true to the script. The necessary sexual scenes are handled with just enough truth and just enough decorum to avoid inappropriateness in a company filled with so many youngsters. The language – some of it impressively real, but rather scatalogical – seems natural and right. Indeed, all the things one thinks might make a show like this done by children seems easy to move past.
Of course, the polish extends beyond the performers. Cheri Hurst’s costumes are, in some cases, better than the ones at the most recent professional production I saw. The instrumental ensemble of Michael Solomon, Freddy Hernandez, Mike Wendland and Olivia Breidenthal is as impressive as the kids, and keeps the piece moving. Indeed, with the exception of a questionable sound system, the thing runs like clockwork.
Theatre 360 offers extraordinary opportunities for young people to experience a professional atmosphere, and learn how to do their very best work. It was brave of Yates to use kids in a show with as much sexuality as this one, and yet it is also a rare chance to kids to speak to kids about the driving forces of libido, parental pressure and academic stress which is the very reason so many young people come to the show in the first place.
What: “Spring Awakening” When: Through May 19, 8 p.m Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Porticos Theatre, 2033 E. Washington Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $20 Info about Theatre 360, including their summer program: (626) 577-5922