MUSE’s Spring Awakening: Melancholy, Upbeat and Slightly Arousing

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Melancholy, Upbeat and Slightly Arousing

MUSE's Spring Awakening

Review by: Victoria Boult and Amelia McNamara
Photos by: Sarah Cutter-Russell (POP Photography)

It's not often one can leave a packed, somewhat antique theatre feeling all sorts of melancholy, upbeat and slightly aroused, but thus is the power of MUSE’s Spring Awakening. The musical follows a group of adolescents as they experience the highs and lows of sexual “awakening,” revolt and self-discovery: commendable and often unexplored topics that we found surprisingly relevant to our contemporary world. Who knew 19th Century Germany and rock music would elicit such feels?

This production of Spring Awakening truly dances: seamlessly, beautifully, electrically. Every scene feels interconnected, as the actors transition from dry, deadpan classrooms to musical outbursts of emotional angst in a singular movement. Director Laura Balboni’s decision to essentially create a 2-hour dance is effective, consistently giving the audience a physical representation of the character’s adolescent frustration.

While Miranda Middleton’s choreography shines, the ensemble must be applauded for their distinct characterisation. Whether it's Georg’s (Hayden Tonazzi) arrogant, know-it-all stroll, Moritz’s (Fred Pryce) hunched, tortured posture or Ilse’s (Sarah Levins) blank, traumatised expression, the character’s distinct quirks are consistently apparent. Each feels three-dimensional and for that, Balboni should be applauded.

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Greenberg and Crotty show their diverse acting abilities

Notably, Levins shines as Ilse, portraying the necessary gravity and emotion of a sexual assault victim, particularly through her facial expressions and singing. Yet, Levins honours the adolescent nature of her character throughout, constantly maintaining a childlike humor and buoyancy.

Emily Greenberg and Tom Crotty both maintain a distinct presence on stage, showcasing their diverse acting ability as a variety of authoritative characters. Greenberg aptly portrays both a concerned and yet distant mother and a hardened school teacher, while Crotty memorably shifts from mourning father to a professor who ironically makes light of this same death. Playwright Duncan Sheik’s characterisation of adult figures as misinformed and maliciously programmed is perhaps a little on the nose, but Crotty and Greenberg’s distinguished physicality and intonations provides such a comedic and loveable contrast to the hormonal teenagers that we are willing to overlook it.

Unfortunately, melodrama hinders some of the emotional highs of Spring Awakening. What could have been meaningful moments are often hampered by over-the-top howls, screams and cries. Sometimes a character struggling to hold back their tears can be more heartbreaking than a character who openly sobs.

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This cast’s most redeeming attribute is their passion

Yet, this cast’s most redeeming attribute is their passion. The fierceness and strange sentimentality with which they perform songs like “Totally Fucked” and “Touch Me” speaks to how much love they harbor for this production. It is both an emotional and hilariously fun experience.

It is worth noting the admirable maturity with which Balboni depicts the adult themes of Spring Awakening. Scenes which would have been easy to trivialise - such as the intercourse between Melchior (Matt Hourigan) and Wendla (Georgia Rodgers) - are treated with heightened respect. This is no doubt assisted by Middleton and Wright’s excellent lighting design, which makes these traditionally ‘trivial’ scenes not just respectful, but beautiful.

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Many mature scenes - which are never trivialised.

While the use of a live orchestra full of talented musicians is commendable, it unfortunately drowns out many of the softer performances, making it hard to both appreciate the quality of voice and follow the finer details of the plot. However, songs featuring the entire ensemble or individuals with strong, booming tones do not have this problem, and we acknowledge the use of microphones or a further set back orchestra may not have been possible for the location. It is a shame that the clarity and delicacy of some actors’ voices could not be fully appreciated.

Overall, Spring Awakening deserves each sold out show, and goes on to join the ranks of MUSE’ finest productions. Laura Balboni helms a deeply intriguing, thought provoking and scarily relevant piece of theatre and is to be commended on her meaningful, surprising direction. Kudos to Duncan Sheik for adapting a poignant and beautiful play  which, notably, is not overshadowed by convenient, crisis-solving musical numbers. Passion and zest for performance was deeply apparent, making the experience not only enjoyable but unforgettable. We would happily watch the show again… and neither of us can stop listening to the soundtrack on Spotify.

MUSE's Spring Awakening runs until 28th October at the King Street Theatre.
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