Carroll students draw emotions in 'Spring Awakening'

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 27, 2013

WAUKESHA - “Spring Awakening,” just given new life by a group of very talented, brave, creative students at Carroll University last weekend, was a smashing success.  

The controversial musical, which was inspired by a German play that was banned in 1890, first opened in 2006 when it began to be shown sparingly to limited audiences. It won eight Tony Awards in 2008, but continues to raise some people’s eyebrows.  

The innocuous title is a bit deceiving, for it conjures up sweet romancing, bouquets of spring daisies and one’s first kiss. But this show explores the adolescent experience in a very repressive Germany at the end of the 19th century and the strong sexual desires that troubled and mystified young people when puberty disrupted their lives. Besides their emotional, psychological and physical turmoil, they also dealt with abuse, failure, rejection, ignorance and the unrealistic expectations of society. All of this with little guidance and understanding on the part of parents and teachers.  

The story highlights the inadequacy of sex education, the demand for unquestioning obedience to adults, the seemingly unbridgeable gap between generations and the agonizing search for meaning with which every young person struggles.  

The show involves a cast of 13, but most of the focus is on four characters - Melchior, Moritz, Wendla and Ilse. All of the adult roles, most of which were unsympathetic, were handled well by Abbi Hess and Brandon Koster. The minor roles played by Mark Ehlke, Andrea Klohn, Kali Marcino, Josiah McKenna, Chris Meissner, Jake Schertz and Francesca Steitz were all executed with skill and enthusiasm.  

The best actor award goes to Sam Burns for his incredible portrayal of Melchior. He brought intelligence, nuance and depth to his role. Peter Burress as Moritz also deserves notice for his intensity. We suffered with him all along the way.  

The two female leads were worthy also, but not quite as strong. The strongest scenes for Amy Majeskie as Wendla were her last ones with her mother and the final one as she is led to the doctor, and for Montana Mariscal as Ilse, her playful, nostalgic one with Moritz.  

One of the most fascinating aspects of this show is the juxtaposition of 19th- century costumes and customs with hard rock music. The disconnect emphasizes the universality of the struggle of how to deal with one’s sexuality and individuality in a world that stresses conformity and compliance. Times change, but human nature does not.  

The graphic language and explicit sexuality were handled with honesty and taste. The choreography, music, lighting and set design all were executed by students under the direction of Ryan Albrechtson, a sophomore with talent and great promise.   

The extensive student involvement in this show is very impressive. I commend all those who participated and gave us such a memorable experience.