There’s a YouTube clip at the 2007 Tony Awards when the cast of the then breakout hit “Spring Awakening” begin to sing. People clap but there’s a moment when John Gallagher Jr. is shown on TV and the crowd goes insane. Now I didn’t see his performance as Moritz Stiefel in person but from the many clips I’ve seen it’s understandable why they cheered so loud and why he was the only actor in the cast to win a Tony.
Now, in 2012, the dark rock musical about teenagers in conservative 19th century Germany has been brought to the Lansing stage at Riverwalk Theatre, directed by Kelly Stuible with music direction by Nicole Martin.
And much like that 2007 Gallagher performance Riverwalk’s Moritz, played by Nick Gnagi, is top notch, a stand out in a group where the boys often outshined the girls.
I loved every moment of Gnagi’s portrayal of Moritz and while his singing voice may not have been the strongest of the group, that prize goes to Adam Woosely as Melchior Gabor, which I’ll get to in a minute, he’s acting skills were superb. There was just something that you felt while watching him that really tugged at your heartstrings, bringing so many great elements to the character whose life just won’t work out.
As for Woosley it was easy to tell why he was cast as Melchior from the very first note of “All That’s Known.” Woosley has a voice the soars ever so nicely through Riverwalk’s Theatre, making sure that his voice rings throughout. He’s acting skills are also above par, especially in a few key moments in Act Two.
The rest of the boys have a moment or two to stick out but Eric Miller’s Hanschen/Rupert was the comic relief throughout a very dark show, as the cockiest of the group.
As far as the girls go Brittany Nichol’s Wendla was the one to watch, especially in “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Whispering,” but I was often left wanting more from the rest, two of whom I never even figured out their names.
As a whole “Spring Awakening” has a song variety that covers everything from the slower ballads to much more up-beat numbers, with the former being better than the latter, and Act Two outshining Act One.
There also seemed to be some microphone issues, leaving me wondering if the cast wasn’t giving it their all or if we just couldn’t hear them because of the technical issues. You could however hear the live musicians though, who all did a lovely job.
I also really enjoyed how each song was sung with hand-held microphones, letting them get out of 19th century Germany and into a more “contemporary world.”
I’m not usually one to complain about the atmosphere I’m in while at the theater but there was someone in the audience that had a tendency to laugh at, well, very inappropriate parts of the show, throwing off important, dramatic scenes, and gaining a few stares from fellow audience members.
But back to the good things about the show, Eric Chatifeld did an amazing job with the costumes, ringing true to the original Broadway production. The girls had very simple, plain outfits, mostly dresses and skirts, while the boys were in school uniforms, I did like the touch of contemporary with the Converse shoes though. The set is also something to take note of. Set designer Mark Mandenburg had it so actors could easily get on and off with a fantastic painting behind the orchestra.
“Spring Awakening” may be one of the most controversial shows of all time but that may not be the reason you’re talking about it after you leave, or for a few days after.