It’s a controversial show, that Spring Awakening, a rock musical teeming with teenage sex and the troubles that come with growing up. Though two of the protagonists in the musical are male, it was the women who walked away with the Contemporary Theatre of Boston College’s production, unapologetically yanking on our heartstrings with their wrenching performances.
Set in Germany in 1891, Spring Awakening follows three teenagers and their friends as they attempt to navigate their way through puberty. The play, directed by Kasey Brown, A&S ’12, opens with the spotlight on Wendla (Tory Berner, A&S ’14) as she sings “Mama Who Bore Me,” a lilting number that relies purely on the vocalist’s voice for support. Berner’s voice more than does the trick. Hers is a sweet-sounding delight that frequently crackles with raw emotion, little flutters of smokiness that elicit goosebumps. When she finds herself falling in love for the first time (“The Word Of Your Body”), Wendla melts into her suitor, allowing herself to be completely consumed by sensation. At this moment, Berner transcends the original Wendla (Lea Michele, now of Glee fame) in the role-lovely and heartbreaking at the same time, she becomes so entirely relatable with one fell swoop of the chorus. Berner’s energized performance anchored the show in reality, a feat not easy for a character meant to be a teenaged girl.
Her male counterpart is Melchior, played with a steely-eyed intensity by Alex Olivieri, A&S ’12. Melchior, a dedicated student who is the top of his class and is one of the most well-respected teenagers in town, slowly unpeels like an onion as the show progresses. It is a transformation that would otherwise be impossible if not for Olivieri’s fine work, complete with furtive glances at the audience that expose a crack in his otherwise finely tuned exterior. The wracking sobs he unleashes at the end of Act II prove that Melchior’s awakening is complete.
There’s no getting around the fact that Spring Awakening is a visceral show, which is why the frequent sound issues that plagued the first act severely detracted from any sympathizing the audience might have done. Through no fault of the performers, who were tasked with removing their concealed microphones at key moments in the show, the speakers popped with feedback whenever Moritz (Tom Mezger, A&S ’14) ripped into one of his several songs. It was a shame that his first-act numbers were lost to technical errors, but at the same time, it helped Mezger maintain an air of anonymity that lent itself nicely to his story arc in the second act. As a student, Moritz struggles in school due to nightmares that keep him awake all night. When Melchior offers to write a guide to puberty for Moritz, it only confuses him more. The audience is left struggling, as is Moritz, to understand the thoughts racing through his head, leaving us just as confused as he by the time he arrives at his pivotal song, “I Don’t Do Sadness.”
Audiences surely rejoiced at the lack of sound issues in Act II, if only because it allowed everyone to soak in every moment of Lili Chasen’s (A&S ’15) masterful and assured performance as Ilse. Though only onstage for a frustratingly short amount of time, Chasen bursts into the musical with a perplexing backstory and a joyful disposition. “Walk me as far as my house?” she asks Moritz, the undertones of sorrow at knowing that he won’t bubbling underneath her optimistic tone. When she sings “Blue Wind,” her voice heaves with maturity. It’s a husky instrument that serves the song perfectly, fluttering with heartache and the truth of a reality less cozy than expected. Perhaps it was good that audiences only caught a glimpse of Chasen in Awakening, if only to serve as a preview for assuredly bigger and brighter things to come for the compelling actress.
Awakening’s plot takes on many sub-stories as well, like rape and incest (“The Dark I Know Well,” sung beautifully by its soloist, Monica Lynn Wright, A&S ’14, who deserves a much larger part in whatever she moves onto next) and homosexuality. Throughout the show, the plot is secured in actuality by the two adult roles, Adult Man (Korey McIsaac, A&S ’12) and Adult Woman (Maggie Kearnan, A&S ’14). Kearnan proved especially captivating, able to switch in the blink of an eye from a strict headmistress to a sympathetic mother-hers is a talent that must be watched in the years to come.
The musical’s crowning number comes in “Totally F-ed,” a number that incorporates every cast member in an anthem of teenage rebellion and frustration that electrified the Bonn Studio Theatre’s crowds. It was a fitting bookend to the first act’s “The Bitch of Living.” The cast’s harmony and sheer unbridled enthusiasm spoke more about the joys and pitfalls of the teenage years than the musical’s book ever could.