Review / Brave, committed and passionate performances

musical theatre / “Spring Awakening”, lyrics by Steven Slater, music by Duncan Sheik, directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts. At ANU Arts Centre until November 26. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

The cast of "Spring Awakening"... a coming-of-age musical.

The cast of “Spring Awakening”… a coming-of-age musical.

FOLLOWING last year’s production of “Next To Normal”, Phoenix Players are rapidly building a reputation for unearthing and presenting interesting new musicals that explore compelling contemporary themes.

The authors of “Spring Awakening” have cleverly transformed an 1891 expressionist play by Frank Wedekind into a searing exploration of the journey from youth to adulthood that doesn’t flinch from tackling subjects such as youth suicide, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, pregnancy and sexual abuse.

Working with an ensemble cast of 11 young actors, roughly the age of the characters they are portraying, directors Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts have drawn from them brave, committed and passionate performances, with direction that is decisive and imaginative, handling the often confronting sex scenes with tact and intelligence.

Outstanding in this ensemble are Callum Bodman, as the brilliant, fearless and questioning young Melchior, and Kaitlin Nihill as Wendla, a young woman desperate for knowledge. Their relationship, while predictably tragic, forms the nucleus of the story. Pip Carroll, Kashmira Mohamed Zagor, Lachlan Agett and Jake Willis also contribute memorable performances among a strong ensemble, all of whom rarely leave the stage.

Kelda McManus and David Cannell anchor the production playing all the adult characters in a series of thoughtful, brilliantly realised characterisations. Jennie Norberry’s period costumes and Chris Zuber’s abstract, multi-level wooden pallet and rope setting, enhanced by clever lighting design, effectively conjure up the sense of period in the sparse rural environment in which these events take place.

More attention to articulation by the cast, and to sound balance to correct the sometimes muffled microphone sound, as well as the tendency for Matt Webster’s excellent orchestra to drown out the singers, would allow more of the all-important lyrics to be heard.

This is a thoughtful, imaginative production that should be seen by parents in the company of their teenage sons and daughters. It may provide an uncomfortable experience, but it will certainly preface many important many conversations.

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