Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne, May 20
Extended to June 10!
Review by Samantha Webb
Spring Awakening is set in a morally strict Germany of 1890s where the adults hold all the cards and the youth struggle through the adversity of coming of age in a time when sexual education is nonexistent. This unconventional stage musical has opened for a limited season in Melbourne to high expectations based on the superb cast and pre-show hype. It did not disappoint.
Spring Awakening is a musical play, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik and based on the original play by Frank Wedekind. It depicts a naïve 1890 German community striving to retain it’s innocence, and fighting progressive change which is considered the work of evil by the adult characters and a scourge to the youth within the community. The youth are discovering their inner and outer sexuality, which puts them at odds with the adults resulting in tragedy.
The performance begins peacefully, with performers slowly wandering the stage and the fringes of the audience; Wendla stretched beneath a chandelier centre stage in innocent white, yet somewhat provocatively, alluding to the story yet to be told.
The cast comes to life with the first musical number, ‘Mama who Bore me’, lead vocals from Wendla, sensually performed by Jessie-Lou Yates. Jessie’s voice is strong and heartfelt; her performance throughout committed, and in places adding the right touch of comedy, sensuality and strength. Her innocent looks combined with maturity of performance perfect for the character of Wendla who is confused by her body’s transformation into a woman.
Then it’s the boys’ turn with the introduction of Melchoir, played by Ashley Roussety and ‘The bitch of living’, a wonderful portrayal of teenage angst, restriction and misunderstanding. Ashley, who graduated from the Western Australian Academy Of Performing Arts (WAAPA), is a young talent to watch for. He brings kindness, sensuality and fragility to the character of Melchoir and can clearly perform with honesty and depth. His voice, a little shaky in the lower ranges, really shone in Act two in ‘Left Behind’ and ‘Those You’ve Known’.
The performance, directed by Robbie Carmellotti, draws deeply from the original play to bring tremendous light and shade and depth of character to life. Robbie has kept a sense of the original European era through the use of accent and costuming. I thoroughly enjoyed the development of Moritz, performed by Brent Trotter, until his (spoiler alert) tragic suicide in Act two and Henry Brett’s portrayal of the gorgeous Hanschen almost stole the show – such delightful expression and dark comedy. Martha, played by Luisa Scrofani, also a highlight performing ‘The Dark I know Well’ in Act one. Her portrayal of a young girl living with an abusive father was both genuine and intense.
The two older characters played by Barry Mitchell and Olivia Solomons were tremendous – in particular as the School headmaster and Schoolmistress, heavily-accented black-comedy across the stage to deliver terrible news. The use of only one male and one female to play all adult characters, particularly poignant and a clever way to demonstrate that all adults appear the same to the youth.
StageArt is the production company behind Spring Awakening and it is clear that the team are very talented.
The lighting design, by Jason Bovaird & Daniel Jowe, was quite beautiful throughout and the staging which was simple and worked really well in the space, was brought to life by the tremendous choreography by Zoee Marsh.
The wings have been removed to make use of the whole space within the theatre and I absolutely loved the way the whole cast moved effortlessly as one to bring a performance that became a part of the whole space. The use of the fringes of the audience from which to perform was really effective in bringing the performance into the whole space and made you feel like you were a living part of the show.
The music was beautifully performed, and thank you to the Musical Director Caleb Garfinkel for brining the score out of the 90s. It was delightful to see members of the cast performing musically at various stages including Alice Batt, who played Anna, on violin and Luisa Scrofani, on bass guitar.
The only thing I was left wondering was why the use of hand held microphones? I assume it was to differentiate between the cast singing out their real inner thoughts, compared to them following the rules of the world in which they were forced to live. However, at times it did interfere slightly with the performance – hiding expression.
I can’t complete this review without mentioning the wonderful Hannah Mcinerny who plays Ilse, a character already expelled from the naïve community. Ilse’s voice performing ‘Blue Wind’ so haunting and beautiful, which becomes a duet with Moritz, brought the audience to a standstill.
I was thrilled to see such a high quality show being staged at an independent theatre in Melbourne. Chapel off Chapel, is a wonderful venue and should be commended for its contribution to the arts industry. The audience gave the whole cast it’s resounding approval with strong applause. I would highly recommend seeing this performance!
StageArt, led by Katherine Armstrong and Robbie Carmellotti, continues to produce groundbreaking musicals that are rarely seen on Australian stages. The company strives to cast its shows with diversity and equality by showcasing the extraordinary talent that exists locally.
>>Read our previous article on SPRING AWAKENING and the FULL CAST HERE
Until June 10th
Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
WATCH A SNEAK PEEK OF SPRING AWAKENING HERE!