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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Spring Awakening
by Sean Margaret Wagner
2018-09-11

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Authors: Steven Sater & Duncan Sheik

At: Jackalope Theatre, 1106 W Thorndale Ave. Tickets: BlankTheatreCompany.org; $15-$30. Runs through: Sept. 30

Based on a 1981 German play by Frank Wedekind, Blank Theatre Company's inaugural production of composer Duncan Sheik and bookwriter/lyricist Steven Sater's Spring Awakening is a bare-bones experience, packed neatly, but bursting out of their tiny storefront. Director Danny Kapinos, musical director Tyler Miles and choreographer Britta Lynn Schlicht have picked the ideal musical to condense for ultimate potency.

Spring Awakening tells of German teens trying and failing to reach adulthood without succumbing to immoral behavior* at the turn of the 20th century. Wendla ( Haley Bolithon ) has a crush on Melchior, but her mother won't explain the mechanics of sex to her. Melchior ( Jeremiah Alsop ) is so frustrated he can't have a frank discussion on human anatomy, he's taken to drawing diagrams for his classmates. Mortiz ( Sam Shankman ) is so overcome by a barrage of sex dreams, he can't concern himself over Latin exams. Ernst ( Adam Brody ) and Hanschen ( Chase Heinemann ) secret away to explore their bodies away from prying eyes, and Ilse ( Claire Latourette ) and Martha ( Cari Meixner ) suffer through sexual abuse at the risk of getting disowned.

We follow Wendla and Melchior as they irreversibly slide into adulthood and discover the wounds that come with love that they were never warned about. Strict consequences are handed down for their "depraved" acts by a pair of adults ( Lisa Savegnago and Mike Weaver ) standing in for teachers and parents. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's modern musical style ensures that their characters have a 21st-century lilt; it's a potent reminder that a century later, the life-altering punishments these kids received are rarely still enforced. That generation-spanning score is precisely what makes Spring Awakening a profound theater experience.

The production is most powerful with a stage full of tightly packed singers weaving in and out of formations, evoking churches and school rooms. There's such an appreciation for actors with eclectic vocal qualities, with everyone taking the spotlight briefly. Adam Brody and Chase Heinemann get an equal parts sweet and snide moment as Ernst and Hanschen, who responds to Ernst's love confession with a proud "and so you should." Cari Meixner can't hide as Martha, desperate to have her abuse go unnoticed, and Claire Latourette is a beacon of a free spirit as Ilse, luring her friends away from sadness. As Moritz, Sam Shankman channels worry like a peak-anxiety Ben Folds, and as Wendla and Melchior, Haley Bolithon and Jeremiah Alsop teach a guileless ingenue masterclass so inviting, you might forget to be jaded going forward. I can't wait to see what's next for Blank Theatre Company.

*Things like discussing/having sex, homosexual sex, masturbating and sexual abuse. If you read this whole list without fainting, congratulations—you are pretty hardcore for 1900.


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