Theater Review: Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's Songs Can't Quite Shine Through a Patchy Production of Spring Awakening | Arts
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Friday, June 8, 2018

Theater Review: Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's Songs Can't Quite Shine Through a Patchy Production of Spring Awakening

Posted by on Fri, Jun 8, 2018 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge The cast of Spring Awakening - PHOTO BY ELIZABETH ANDERSON
  • photo by Elizabeth Anderson
  • The cast of Spring Awakening
Spring Awakening
★★½
Through Sunday, June 17
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, Raleigh


Spring Awakening, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s triple Tony-winning 2007 musical, is set in Germany a century ago, when public education about contraception was criminalized. Generations of teenage boys and girls, like the ones depicted in the musical, learned by trial and error—and lived and died by the consequences.

But if the musical is about the tragic outcomes of adolescent children not learning survival skills about human sexuality, then this too-minimal NRACT production suffers because its young actors haven’t fully learned basic musical-theater survival skills, including vocal projection and pitch.

Not that their leaders made it easy for them. Saturday night’s performance was a sonic tug of war between music director Craig Johnson and the show’s three sound designers and operators. Balance problems persisted between unamplified singers and a canned soundtrack. This marred solo and small-group moments in six numbers, including “The Bitch of Living,” “The Dark I Know,” and “Those You’ve Known.” In a room this intimate, singers with the ability to belt could cut through a number of the snags, but these performers had either been forbidden to or never taught how.

Under Timothy Locklear’s direction, Ford Nelson has dramatic intensity as the iconoclastic male lead, Melchior, and Nathan Hamilton charms as his awkward friend, Moritz. But they tend to go off key at top volume, and neither fully has the voice to anchor this enterprise.

Some musical moments still shine. Nelson and Natalia Soto genuinely moved us in the gentle, aching “The Word of Your Body.” Choreographer Aya Wallace ably animated the tuneful, frisky group number “My Junk.” Lauren Knott’s listless, lifeless take on homeless bohemian Ilsa seemed like a squandered opportunity, but, when audible, the actor sold her second-act solo in “Blue Wind.” The chilling a capella beauty at the end of “The Song of Purple Summer” made us wish for more such moments in this underdeveloped production.

Corrections: This review originally misstated the title of the song "The Bitch of Living" and misspelled the surname of actor Natalia Soto.

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