Sheridan Road
December 20, 2011

Sights + Sounds: Spring Awakening

This holiday the hallways at Theater Wit are running red with authoritative angst. Both Griffin Theatre Company's compelling production of the wildly popular musical Spring Awakening and Stage Left's tautly funny The Eight: Reindeer Monologues offer views that question the valor of those responsible for our maturation and wellbeing.

The team of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik took Broadway by storm, a handful of years ago, with their adaptation of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening, a 19th Century German play that condemned the lack of sexual education and mixed morality presented to that nation's youth. Best known for his pop hit “Barely Breathing”, Sheik's musical touch greatly appealed to theater geeks everywhere and introduced the world to Glee's Lea Michele who played the show's heroine, Wendla.

In Griffin's production, director Jonathan Berry nicely highlights the show's more quiet moments, bringing out many of the sensitive interactions missing from the show's recent touring companies. This is especially evident in the second act vocal seduction of Ernst (a boyishly appealing Adam Molloy) by the more aggressive Hanschen (a worldly, extremely funny Adam Fine). Since the show's inception, this quietly effective moment in Wedekind's original piece has been played for laughter, resulting in some controversy. Here, it is an exquisitely detailed moment, brought to full life by Berry and the performers.

Nicole Pellegrino's enthusiast choreography, unfortunately, is rendered a bit mute by the platform accented playing space. The cast's life exalting energy is, occasionally, rendered into mere stomping by the abridged stage. Still, their charming fervor is passionately attractive, particularly to younger audiences. Although, the show's emphasized sexuality and brief bits of nudity may be too harsh for some.

Meanwhile, in an impressive cast, Matthew's Fletcher's spastic David Bowie-like Moritz, Vanessa Greenway's compassionately concerned adults and Harter Clingman's booming Georg truly stand out.

Playing on the same stage in late night rotation, Jeff Goode's ballyhooed, much produced The Eight: Reindeer Monologues starts out sarcastically funny but soon becomes a very touching, serious look at celebrated yet abusive authority figures. Taking place in the court room of an investigating tribunal, The Eight explores the popular holiday team's thoughts on whether Santa Claus truly attacked favored reindeer pin-up, Vixen.

From Vance Smith's masculine, ultra-cool Dasher to Lisa Herceg's passionately powerful Blitzen and Lindsey Pearlman's coyly potent Vixen, all the performers and the piece's multiple directors give the show definition and as much mirth as the circumstances allow. Still, go in expecting a much darker holiday experience or the piece's touching, honest evaluations just may surprise you.

Spring Awakening runs at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, through January 8, 2012 while The Eight: Reindeer Monologues finishes its run there on December 31st with a champagne celebration. Tickets for the shows are $15-$38 and can be purchased by calling 773-975-8150. –Brian Kirst