Carroll's 'Spring Awakening' an amazing production
Play avoids overly romantic portrayal of love

BY JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

June 27, 2019

Carroll University’s “Spring Awakening” is a standout production.
Photo by Robert Colletta

WAUKESHA - First off, I have to say that this is one of the best productions I have ever seen on any stage, including the professional theaters. Carroll University in its present offering of “Spring Awakening” as part of its Summer Repertory Program has reached the apex in all aspects of the theater arts - music, acting, choreography and overall impact.

Its large ensemble of young theater artists, its amazing assemblage  of musicians, and the skilled direction of Professor Jennifer Dobby and her coterie of designers left me in awe.

This controversial musical opened on Broadway in 2006 and won 8 Tony Awards that year, including the one for best new musical. It is based on a German play that was written in 1890 in a very repressive Germany and was almost completely banned. It still proves shocking to some audiences who have problems addressing the whole issue of human sexuality.

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 deals with troubled adolescents when puberty disrupts their lives, a reality that the inadequacy of their sex education, the demand for unquestioning obedience to parents and teachers, the unbridgeable gap between generations, and the often unrealistic expectations of society conflict them. It even touches on physical and sexual abuse, two very uncomfortable realities

The show features 13 young performers and two actors who effectively render all the adult roles (Laura Gray and Jace Kaikuaana), but it focuses primarily on two young couples - Wendla and Melchior, and Ilse and Moritz. All four are terrific, but the two young men stand out a bit more - Joshua Junig and Phillip Steenbekkers who both have amazing acting and musical talents. Madeline Buchta and Erin Ashenhurst are also impressive as the two female leads.

Melchior and Moritz attend the same strict prep school. Melchior questions everything with confidence and boldness, while poor Moritz is the academic and social misfit that Melchior tries to protect. Neither is considered acceptable, though Melchior’s mother is the rare adult who offers some understanding. Moritz is unable to cope with “The Dark I Know Well.” His moving “And Then There Were None” and “I Don’t Do Sadness” were both heartrending.

Wendla is the beautiful, curious, naive young girl who is looking for answers from her sexually-stifled mother. She eventually finds her own answers. Ilse pushes against the boundaries of her environment by forging out on her own.

All the raw and heightened emotions of adolescence are evident here - their confusion, their idealism, their anger, their dreams and their heartbreaks. Sometimes I question our over-romanticizing of youth. It is often a very challenging period for most.

Several of the best songs - “The Word of Your Body,” “I Believe” and “Song of Purple Summer” - are thrilling to experience. Unlike some rock musicals, there is a lot of variety in the repertory of this work.

I highly recommend you support this compelling, mesmerizing production. I was inspired and moved beyond the ability of my words to capture it all.

“Spring Awakening”

The play runs again Friday and Saturday in the Otteson Theatre at Carroll University, 100 N. East Ave., Waukesha. Tickets may be purchased at the door or reserved by calling 262-524-7182.