Suppressing hormones and/or knowledge leads to certain disaster. By the end of Spring Awakening,the body count is high and the cast have sung and danced their way through a long string of horrors. The play on which the musical is based dates back to 1891 but the parallels to every attempt to dampen the teenage dream through the ages is explicit. The students of Spring Awakening are expected to learn their place in society and not to stray from the strict, if vaguely stated, rules of the church, parents and particularly the career-minded school teachers and administration: Fame this is not.
Rebellion in song is a time-honoured musical theatre trope and when the ensemble bursts into frenzied angry dance and a glorious wall of sound, Spring Awakening lifts off and takes flight. Duncan Sheik's soft rock score is melodic and intricate, with arrangements that use heart-rending and mildly dissonant strings. Unfortunately the complexity of the lush orchestration occasionally trips up the male members of the cast and what should be powerful belted moments are hesitant and slightly out of tune.
The women fare better with Jacqueline Martin (Next to Normal, Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors, Rent) providing a clear innocent voice to lead the way. Tiera Watts sells "The Dark I Know Well" so powerfully that it is the first spine-tingling moment of the production. When she is joined by Victoria Scully (who also cuts loose in the finale), it results in not only gorgeous sound but also maximum emotional impact. And it is great fun to watch Shannon Dickens step out from behind her puppeteer roles (Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors, Shrek) to morph from caricature oppressor to self-absorbed mother to benevolent matriarch to sexpot.
Matt Chenuz steals the show twice, once with some comically intense masturbation. and then as a gay seducer. He and the object of his intentions, Evan Benyacar, reprise and reframe the main musical theme, "The Word of Your Body," into the one moment of power where repression is triumphed over. Benyacar in particular seems to be reigning in a big voice and some flashy dance moves. Just because the subject matter is sombre it can, as opera proves, still be sung thrillingly. Scott Labonte and Andrew Soutter (Little Shop of Horrors) both act their roles convincingly but their money notes fade instead of blossoming. Despite being provided with rock star-styled microphones and moves, the two male leads are swallowed alive by the women and the ensemble.
Spring Awakening should be a natural fit for the Lower Ossington Theatre. The cast is the right age and have the requisite triple threat skills and energy to bring the show to a throbbing and shattering pitch. It is almost as if their abilities, their exuberance and anger, has been suppressed in the interests of a conceptual framework. The choreography contrasts stylized and ritualistic movements with freewheeling abandon, but it occasionally feels as constricting as is the use of the microphones. Spring Awakening drives home its point in many powerfully heartbreaking moments, but rarely achieves the musical drive required to goad our loins into action. The plot rails against suppressing one's sex drive, and this production is at its best when it follows that advice.