A Love Letter to ‘Spring Awakening’

To the cast, musicians, and creative team behind this semester’s moving production of “Spring Awakening,” thank you. How rare it is for a production to hit all the right notes with such endearing effortlessness: heart-fluttering chemistry, bone-chilling vocal performances, and staging so perfectly poetic that I have hardly been able to think about anything else for the past few days. Wow.

For those not yet under its spell, “Spring Awakening,” based on a 19th-century German play by Frank Wedekind, combines alluring music by Duncan Sheik and soulful lyrics by Steven Sater to tell a story about young adults wrestling with the constructs of an oppressive society, doubts about religion, and questions about their own sexual awakening—and about the adults who choose not to hear them.

Various iterations of the musical—its Broadway debut in 2006, for example, or the recent revival by Deaf West Theatre—have stirred something electric within audiences. The vibrancy and relatability of the characters transcend historical and social contexts, and the music is just so damn good. Presented by Harvard College Musical Theater and the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club, this production dazzled. It runs at the Loeb Experimental Theater from Oct. 27 through Nov 4.

The show’s core trio—the angsty misfit Moritz (Blu Frankel ’20), the suave and too-wise-for-his-years Melchior (Jake A. Corvino ’19), and bright but uninformed Wendla (Karalyn E. Joseph ’21)—anchored a confident and compelling cast. Corvino and Joseph embodied their roles with a driven poise and an understated grace, perhaps best showcased in “The Guilty Ones,” performed after Melchior and Wendla’s first time. The pair sat downstage and sang just to themselves, voices soft and eyes locked in intimate understanding, and the Ex’s black box theater setting, little twitches in the audience, and even the other characters on stage were incidental to Corvino and Joseph’s unadorned connection. Frankel, for his part, channeled Moritz’s self-destructive anger, devastating failure at school, and inability to make anyone see him through his scrawny and troubled façade. He conveyed it all with an effectively quivering hold on the notes, especially poignant in the brooding lament, “And Then There Were None.”

The entire cast infused Sater’s lyrics with unbelievable braided harmonies, and indeed it is difficult to isolate just one instance of sheer vocal ecstasy. Corvino, Otto (Christian Savarese ’19), Georg (Noah Barson, Emerson College ’19), and the rest of the company, not to omit the accompanying musicians expertly directed by Liz P. Kantor ’18 and Daniel L. Rodriguez ’18,poured their hearts into their rendition of “Touch Me” toward the middle of Act I, a musical number that just about transported the audience beyond, as the lyrics suggest, “where the winds sigh.” That the cast did not bask in how astonishing they were made their performances all the more irresistible.

The production is a testament to the talent of Director/Choreographer Laura Sky Herman ’19, who assembled such a spot-on team and blocked the show with such meticulous precision that even the placement of the actors’ fingertips and the timing of their breaths struck a chord.

Indeed, the cast breathed lyrical life into certain poses that they sometimes held for only a few seconds. When Melchior and Wendla first meet in a sunlit meadow, the other adolescents—some seated, some standing—rest their bodies on each other, forming nestled, bashful trees. Herman, here, stylized the Melchior and Wendla’s melting into each other and their budding attraction by directing Corvino and Joseph each to reach out with one hand, circle that hand around the other’s—barely grazing fingertips—until the two hands intertwine in time to their back-and-forth lyrics: “Don't feel a thing, you wish / Grasping at pearls with my fingertips / Holding her hand like some little tease.” This scene is just one example of the production’s smooth blend of movement, music, and poetry, bolstered by tasteful lighting, a stripped-down set that highlighted the actors, and a cohesive look overall—elements so mesmerizing that I did not want the production to end.

As Melchior sings toward the end of the show, “There’s a moment, you know….” But, truly, this version “Spring Awakening” cultivated so many moments of splendor, intense connection, and tingling perfection that words alone cannot capture its magic. You just have to see it and believe. (“Oh, I believe.”)

—Crimson staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at melissa.rodman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

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