Posted on Sep 30, 2013
4 out of 5
Every now and again, a show will come along that will really WOW you. Ever since it's inception, Spring Awakening has been that show for me. Each production I see brings something different to the plate, and The Barn Players is no exception. Comparisons to the Coterie's recent production are inevitable, but luckily both shows shine independently of one another.
I had the pleasure of seeing the show recently, and I was amazed. The Barn itself had been transformed into a quaint set that really sucked the audience in (if only because the set protrudes into the audience). The design- both lighting and set, are works of art, and the set, while minimal, really helps enhance the scenes played out.
The direction by Eric Magnus is spot on in this production. You can tell he really spent time developing all the characters with the actors, and the little nuances he added don't go unnoticed to those familiar with the show. While the Coterie chose to go the more direct path with many characters and ideas, Magnus has chosen to let the audience figure it out, and therefore let the moments breath and live as their own creatures. Many of the smaller decisions, like having a modern day chorus on stage, were nice little touches.
Of course no play or musical can be reviewed without mentions of the actors, and this is where I'm a bit torn, as the performances are all over the board. The three leads- Wendla, Melchior, and Moritz, (played by Maggie Gremminger, Bobby Turnbough, and Keegan Rice, respectively) are fine fits for the roles. Wendla, especially, is played with a childlike innocence that reflects, but doesn't mimic the iconic Lea Michele portrayal. As Melchior, Turnbough has a lot on his plate, which he seems to stomach just fine, but only one bite at a time. His acting is through the roof and incredibly realistic, and the singing, when heard, was lovely, but that's the problem- he was almost never heard. As the central character, he carries us through the play, but he lost us by not singing out. Moments like the touching ballad "Left Behind" lost their emotional meaning because of this. If I hadn't known the show previously, I wouldn't have been able to follow. Rice does a fine job as Moritz singing-wise, but I just didn't feel the character's desperation and internal struggle- he seemed like a typical teenager just phoning it in and giving up when the going got tough.
The supporting players is where the show really shines. As Martha, Emma Cook gives a haunting performance in her big scene, and left me with goosebumps when the song was over, and leaving me hating the author for not giving her more stage time. James Levy, as Georg, killed the song "Touch Me", resurrected it, and slayed it again in cold blood. His powerhouse vocals in the song made me want to testify. Jake Leet brought a charm and innocence to the understated role of Ernst, making him easy to love.
Ilse and Hanschen have long been my favorite roles in the show, and the two actors, Kristen Altoro and Steven James, don't disappoint. The two share out-of-this-world vocals, and really shine in their small scenes. Altoro is mystifying in the role of Ilse, with a voice that could make even the best R&B singers envious. Her early duet with Cook was, to me, THE highlight of the show. As Hanschen, James plays a wonderful slimeball, but I felt he missed many opportunities to add some depth to the character, which ended up feeling rather one-note to me.
Rounding out the cast is TJ Chaffin as Otto, Natalie Baughman as Thea, Kelsie Schuman as Anna, Cathy Wood as Adult Women, and Doug Dresslaer as Adult Men. All are small roles, but the actors make the most of them, and you can tell they all enjoy their parts. Wood stands out as the best, making each of her multiple parts unique and fun.
No musical would be complete without a pit, and this one truly shines. The musicians, who are visible behind the stage, really transform you into the world. I'd seen many productions of the show before, but something about the music still seemed fresh and new.
All in all, Spring Awakening at The Barn Players was a delight. Though suffering from some small acting and technical issues, it quickly made you forget. It was, by far, my favorite production of the show I've ever seen, and it will remain hard to top. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to be wowed. Running through October 6th