Risks in ‘Spring Awakening’ are worth rewarding

Photo Credit: Leslie Irwin | The Los Angeles Loyolan

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Risks in ‘Spring Awakening’ are worth rewarding – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

At what point does sheer risk-taking become more impressive than the actual result? It’s a question that comes to mind while watching the Del Rey Players’ first production of the year, “Spring Awakening,” the Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater musical about youth, love and sex, opening tonight at Del Rey Theatre in North Hall.

“Spring Awakening” is not an easy musical to perform. It’s vocally challenging for almost every performer – especially the male lead, Melchior, played here by freshman theatre arts major Kevin Dwyer, who is expected to jump to almost every possible pitch throughout his songs. It’s heart-wrenching – extremely so for Wendla (sophomore health and human sciences major Lacey Smith) who gets put through the emotional wringer. It also often requires the actors to be giving full performances in voice and emotion at once – special mention must go to Moritz (senior theatre arts major Jakob Berger), who is the least prominent of the main characters but does so much more every moment he’s on stage.

All of this alone would be hard. Yet director and senior theatre arts major Adam Dlugolecki has turned up the difficulty level by adding complex choreography (by senior dance and psychology double major Grace Goodwin) to several musical numbers. There’s so much happening you have to marvel at the scope of the show – but is any of it really helping the material?

The answer: yes. Also: no. But mostly: sometimes. Some songs benefit significantly from the added choreography – “The Dark I Know Well” goes from a dark ballad to an absolutely devastating confessional duet. Yet some songs are crushed under the weight of everything that’s happening – “I Believe” just looks silly, as the dancers surrounding Melchior and Wendla in a moment of raw passion distract the audience from one of the musical’s most important scenes.

At Monday’s tech rehearsal, the first for the show, things still needed to be tightened up. Small glitches, like Dwyer missing key changes, should be ironed out in the final version of the show, so it’s not worth fretting over. The chemistry is worrisome, though: Dwyer and Smith just don’t click. Almost every other pairing, romantic or platonic, has more sizzle. Junior theatre arts major Cameron Tapella and sophomore theatre arts major Mike Rose share a particularly strong spark in their duet, “The Word of Your Body (Reprise),” that makes the main coupling feel ice cold in comparison.

Melchior and Wendla’s relationship is hardly warm and fuzzy – the chemistry could have been dark and dangerous instead. But despite Smith’s virtuosic performance as Wendla – truly one of the best performances from an actress at LMU in years, so full of longing for more in her life – no form of chemistry ever bubbles up to the surface.

Dwyer is mostly solid as Melchior, but he seems the most distracted by all the extras Dlugolecki has added. His voice is a great fit on bombastic songs like “Totally F***ed,” but a total mismatch on quieter ones like “Left Behind.” Berger is a revelation as Moritz, bringing a boyish energy to the part that works wonders.

“Spring Awakening” is worth seeing because of its strong ensemble – truly not a weak link among the actors – and for Dlugolecki’s fresh take on the material. It’s not always seamless; in some cases, it’s arguably damaging to the intention of the text. But it’s that kind of experimentation that should be encouraged by the LMU theatre scene. Dlugolecki’s “Awakening” may not be better than a straightforward adaptation would have been, but it is certainly more interesting.


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