The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

Steel River's ‘Spring Awakening' is compelling musical theater


By Cheryl Thornburg, cthornburg@21st-centurymedia.com

Monday, October 7, 2013

Steel River Playhouse’s current production, “Spring Awakening,” may not be for everyone, but for those who like edgy, contemporary theater that addresses intense and controversial subject matter, it is just the ticket.
With powerful music by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s story peopled with dynamic youthful characters, “Spring Awakening” is an unforgettable theater experience.
Based on the then-banned controversial 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, it follows the lives of young teenagers in a German village of the late 19th century. The issues addressed, however, are as relevant now as they were then. A few of the topics may be uncomfortable for some. Stories about abortion, rape, incest, homosexuality and child abuse are seen in print, on television and online every day, but when depicted on stage by a talented cast, they are somehow more intimate and compelling.
With all its dark undertones, “Spring Awakening” for the most part is a coming-of-age story about young teens dealing with new emotions and raging hormones while rebelling against parental expectations and control.
Director Beverly Redman has gathered some of the area’s best young actors for this production. The majority of the cast members are still in high school, but you would never guess it from the caliber of their performances. Their youth adds to the show’s authenticity and energy, while their superb vocals deliver both tender ballads and raw, hard-driving numbers with ease.
Maddie Aicher, a junior at Owen J. Roberts High School, is remarkable as Wendla, the naïve young girl who is yearning to learn more about life and love, but gets no guidance from her repressed mother. She opens the show with the powerful “Mama Who Bore Me” that sets the tone for what is to come and delivers exquisite performances of “The Word of Your Body” and “Whispering” in duets with Matt DeGaetano as Melchior. Aicher’s soprano has a warm, pure quality that is perfect to represent the innocent Wendla.
DeGaetano is both dashing and daring as the highly intelligent Melchior who questions everything and seems to reject the beliefs of his conservative community. His tenor matches Aicher’s in purity in the duets, but is powerful and stirring as he leads group numbers like “All That’s Known” and “The Mirror – Blue Night.”
Andrew Patterson takes on the challenging role of Moritz, the class clown who also has a darker side as he tries to live up to his parent’s expectations. Patterson nails the comedic side and is memorable in the second act as he deals with his demons. He is most memorable though in the poignant “Those You’ve Known,” with Aicher and DeGaetano in the second act.
The depth of the vocal talent in this show is amazing and the score allows for many young performers to take their turn in the spotlight.
Madison Devlin, a senior at Boyertown Area Senior High School, gives a moving performance as Martha in “The Dark I Know Well.” Kira Clements, a sophomore at Upper Merion High School, also delivers a memorable solo as Ilse in the same number.
Mike Styer, as Georg, and Andrew Pierce, as Otto, shine in a reprise of “The Word of Your Body.” The song comes up again as Robb Russ, as Hanschen, and Zach Reynolds, as Ernst, deliver their own passionate version.
The remaining performers are as much a part of the fabric of this show as the soloists, because the high-energy, dramatic choreography and intense, emotion-packed songs are what make the show special. Ensemble members include Casey Cloonan as Thea (Honey Brook), Dona Marie Pizzo as Anna (Eagleville), Amanda Gray as Jennifer (Douglassville), Karissa Smith as Krista (Boyertown), Sami Kolb as Liesl (Spring City,) AJ Sermarini as Gerard (Boyertown) and Cory Taylor as Robert (Lansdale).
All of the adult characters are played by two talented actors, Aileen McCullough and Neal Newman. The two manage with changes in body language and voice and sometimes, costumes, to create totally believable new characters. Their perfectly nuanced spoken roles present a stark contrast to the emotionally-charged songs of the youth.
Choreographer Adam Newborn has put together some powerful, dynamic routines that add passion and intensity to the already intense lyrics and Deborah Stimson-Snow, music director, elicited equally passionate vocal performances from the ensemble.
This show is definitely not appropriate for young audiences. It has fairly graphic scenes of a sexual nature including masturbation and the lyrics in some songs feature explicit language.
“Spring Awakening” continues Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 13. Tickets may be purchased online by visiting www.steelriver.org or by contacting the box office at 610-970-1199. Steel River Playhouse is located at 245 E. High St., Pottstown.