Magnificent 'Spring Awakening' at Wilbury

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If you want to experience the incredible talent coming out of our colleges and universities, get over to Wilbury Theatre, where director Josh Short has assembled a cast of 11 young actors/singers in a magnificent production of the Tony Award-winning rock musical, “Spring Awakening.” I had seen the musical a few years ago on the proscenium stage and, although not being a big fan of rock musicals, thought it was O.K.

Short has taken the production and brought it up close and personal to its audience, which is seated on three sides of a small revolving stage, with action on and above the larger stage behind it, adding an off-stage location, and immersing the audience in the action.

“Spring Awakening,” adapted from Frank Wedekind’s book, Spring Awakening: A Children’s Tragedy, is the tragic, poignant story of teenagers discovering their sexual, philosophical and political selves in late 19th century Germany. It is told through a series of connected vignettes, backed by some powerful songs. Scenes shift from a group of young women to a group of young men, all frustrated by not being properly educated in sexual matters by parents and teachers.

The story centers on Wendla (Katrina Z. Pavao) and Melchoir (Diego Guevara), two friends who discover love and sex the hard way. The subject matter is R-rated and deals with sexual abuse, abortion, rape, masturbation, eroticism, suicide and authoritarianism. There are scenes that are funny, but many more that are intense and poignant.

The production calls for actors with good voices and lots of energy, and this is where Wilbury shines. There is not a weak link in the chain of the 11 cast members and three-member band.

Enhancing both the cast and the band is Gunnar Manchester, who plays a mean violin, and has two “naughty” scenes that bring down the house.

“How do we know what freedom is if our parents don’t tell us?” the students ask, as they are forced to discover for themselves.

The two-hour production, with a brief intermission, never slows down to take a breath. The actors are challenged both physically and emotionally, most noticeably in the whirlwind ending of the first act, which leaves everyone breathless.

In the second act, the young people have grown a bit from their experiences. Amid the tragedies that occur, they see hope for the future, closing the second act with a powerful rendition of “The Song of Purple Summer.”

“Spring Awakening” is at Wilbury Theatre, 393 Broad St. in Providence through June 11. Be warned that this is R-rated. Call 400-7100 for reservations.

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