Review “Spring Awakening” (Porchlight Music Theatre): Haunting Rebellion and Resignation

Porchlight Music Theatre presents SPRING AWAKENING.

Over a century ago, German Playwright Frank Wedekind debuted his provocative play, “Spring Awakening.” Wedekind penned a coming-of-age tale of teenagers in a 19th century sexual oppressed society. He wrote about puberty, rape, sexual assault, erotic fantasy and homosexuality. His characters dealt with child abuse, neglect, suicide ideation, and mid-terms. His play was controversial, often banned and timeless. 

In 2006, Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) premiered SPRING AWAKENING Off-Broadway. Sater and Sheik spun Wekekind’s story of adolescent sexuality into an alternative rock musical. Their haunting score of rebellion and resignation was met with critical and award-winning acclaim. 

Under the skillful direction of Director and Choreographer Brenda Didier, SPRING AWAKENING illustrates the ongoing heartbreaking relevancy between youth and authority. Didier and her creative team (Christopher Rhoton-scenic, Bill Morey-costumes, Patrick Chan-Lighting, Jonathan Berg-Einhorn-properties) stage the production on a stark, wooden platform. Rhoton leans hard into a naked and harsh reality. On the backdrop and sides, beams of light effectively change to reinforce the mood. Bright red and yellow streaks match the fury in Quinn Kelch’s (Moritz) solo. Chan then uses a combo of tranquil glimmers to resemble stained glass windows for a church scene. Morey employs fashion to define the clash of characters. The buttoned-up adults are prim and prudish. The boys are clad in spirit-breaking, school uniforms. And the girls wear innocent, folksy frocks.     

Didier also blurs the stage boundaries. Berg-Einhorn places a piano and easel in the wings where Didier has ensemble members visible and invisibly perched. She also has the orchestra flanking the platform. It all works together to focus attention center-stage where heart-breaking secrets are revealed. Vulnerabilities are exposed. And conservative beliefs crush dreams.  

The music guides this story of teenage angst with wistful melodies interlacing revolutionary anthems. This terrific ensemble, under the musical director of Justin Akira, go from a zealous and energetic “Totally F#cked” to a somber and hopeful “The Song of Purple Summer”. Although there are few flat notes, the ensemble primarily harmonizes with multi-layered emotion. Their fresh voices croon and roar about their changing bodies and stagnant mores.  There is so much talent on the stage including an impish Kelch, earnest Maya Lou Hlava and  soulful Tiffany T. Taylor  And nod out to Kevin James Sievert and Juwon Tyrel Perry for delivering unforgettable sung moments.    

This is the second production of SPRING AWAKENING I’ve seen. It’s not a typical musical. It’s more the plight of youth in society put to song. I always leave feeling guilty and frustrated that we, as a society, haven’t learned much in 100 years about supporting young people in their self exploration. Still, SPRING AWAKENING is a visit back in time to our own youth, innocence and sexual discovery.        

Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission

The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn 

Based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind

Book and lyrics by Steven Sater 

Music by Duncan Sheik 

Directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier

Music directed by Justin Akira

Thursdays at 7pm (excluding May 5, 12, 19)

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm 

Saturdays at 3pm

Sundays at 2pm

Additional matinees May 5 at 10:30am, May 12, June 1 & 2 at 1:30pm

Thru June 2nd

For more information or tickets

Production photos by Liz Lauren

For more Chicago theatre information and reviews, please visit Theatre in Chicago

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