“Spring Awakening,” a coming- of-age musical based on the German play by Frank Wedekind, was performed at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, from October 25 to November 10.
When “Spring Awakening” first opened on Broadway, it shocked audiences with its dark portrayal of adolescence, child abuse, pregnancy, rape, homosexuality, and suicide.
It also featured Lea Michele and Lancaster County native and EPAC veteran Jonathan Groff as the two main characters, who both went on to star in “Glee.”
Although set in Germany in the late 19th-century, “Spring Awakening” features a much more modern alternative rock soundtrack, which adds to the angst the characters are going through and gives the musical a unique edge.
In fact, it is a surprise in itself that an area as conservative as Lancaster County would even put on such a controversial musical.
This production of “Spring Awakening” was directed by Edward Fernandez, who obviously put a lot of thought and creative genius into this musical.
The sets are minimal but effective, with a few desks, tables, and a tall staircase, with the orchestra partially hidden on a platform at the top of the staircase.
The use of lighting was also very amazing. The stage was bright during the non-singing bits, but it would darken and have flashing lights of red, purple, and blue during the musical numbers. This proved to be quite effective during the more emotional or angst-fueled musical numbers such as “The Bitch of Living,” “The Dark I Know Well,” and “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind.”
However, the best part of the show was the cast, which consisted of mostly high school and college students playing the hormonal adolescents.
Despite their youth, the entire cast was lively, talented, and handled themselves very professionally.
In fact, a few of the cast members were students from Millersville University.
The main character, Wendla, is played by Penn State student Kate-Lynn Scheib, who portrays her character’s naïve and pure nature well and has a great singing voice.
Josh Kirwin plays Melchior, a charismatic and intelligent youth and Wendla’s love interest. He’s a strong singer, has a captivating stage presence, and does an impressive job tapping into Melchior’s dark and complex psyche.
Their best scenes together were during the song “The Word of Your Body,” where their characters’ passionate feelings for each other start to develop, and the infamous sex scene at the end of act one, with Scheib being hesitant and frightened and Kirwin convincing her to go through with it.
Vince Fazzolari plays Melchior’s best friend Moritz. At first, his character seems like the comic relief of the musical.
His neurotic and clumsy antics make for some very funny moments in the first act, but he becomes one of the more tragic characters during the second act of the show.
Certain events unfold that leave him confused, desperate, and depressed, and his inner turmoil comes full circle during the painful ballad “Don’t Do Sadness.”
Millersville’s Peter Ferraiolo plays Ernst, a naïve boy who’s seduced by a gay fellow classmate (Quinn Corcoran) in a short but particularly funny scene.
Young EPAC veteran Madison Buck plays Martha, a girl who is afraid of telling anyone that her father beats her. She especially shines during “The Dark I Know Well,” where her voice shakes with anger and fear as she sings about her abusive family life.
Last but not least, Millersville junior Amy Ward plays Ilse, a girl who ran away from her abusive father and now lives as a Bohemian. She portrays both the toughness of an abuse victim and the innocence of an adolescent girl who’s indulging in her new sense of independence.
Her musical numbers, such as “Blue Wind,” “The Dark I Know Well,” where she accompanies Buck, and “The Song of Purple Summer” are some of the most emotional numbers in the show, and she has an exceptional singing voice. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Scheib, who had prior experience of playing Wendla, Ward probably would’ve made a perfect Wendla.
I got the chance to talk to Ward about her experience in “Spring Awakening” a few days viewing the
musical. She says Fernandez offered her an audition after he saw her play Ivy in ACMO’s 2012 spring musical, “Bare: A Pop Opera.” She later got a callback, where she read lines for both Wendla and Ilse and sang “Mama Who Bore Me” before being given the role as Ilse.
However, even with her many years of theatre and musical experience, playing Ilse proved to be a challenge for her.
“I was already very familiar with all the songs,” Ward says, “but it took me time to feel comfortable with my character and her background.”
Still, the musical was a great experience for her, especially being able to work with Ferraiolo and Christina Rivera, another Millersville theatre student who was part of the ensemble.
“I got a lot closer with Christina and Peter, and it felt great to do another show with them after ‘Bare,’” she says.
When asked what she’ll take away from her first musical production at EPAC, she says, “Don’t be afraid to take chances, and if you’re offered an opportunity, take it. It’ll bring you great things.”
One strange thing to note about the musical was that all the adult roles such as the parents and the teachers were played by two actors (Susan Barber and Larry Gessler). Though they played all their roles well and with great comedic timing, it did get confusing figuring out who exactly they were playing at certain times.
Still, this is a very minor complaint on an otherwise stellar production of “Spring Awakening.” Everything in this musical works, from the settings, orchestration, lighting, choreography, acting, and singing.
Fernandez pushed the envelope and took plenty of risks, and the risks definitely paid off in the end.