Review: 'Spring Awakening' at the Square Foot Theatre Company

Tara Kennedy

What are you doing this weekend? I know what you should do: go to Wallingford to the Square Foot Theatre Company to see Spring Awakening and its amazing young cast blow the roof off their new space in an unassuming strip mall. It only runs through this Sunday and I wanted to write about it because this little show should get the audiences it deserves. This production is special because it is made up of college-age actors who have rehearsed this show for approximately two weeks. Despite the short rehearsal process, there is an intensity and polish to these young performers that is worth driving to Wallingford to see.

Spring Awakening – the love child of German playwright Frank Wedekind and pop-rock singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik (remember “Barely Breathing”?) – is a show about coming-of-age in a suppressive German society in the early 1890s. Everything that is screaming in these teenagers’ heads are exactly the things that they shouldn’t be thinking about: sex being the number one verboten “thing” of course. Angst is apropos to describe the turmoil of these teens (there’s a reason we borrowed that word from the Germans to describe adolescents in modern times) and what’s a little sex and angst without rock and roll? Luckily, there’s plenty of rocking in this show as well.

The two shining stars are the actors playing Melchior (Willem Sandercox) and Moritz (Mark Sumner); they both had the acting and singing chops to become those characters fully and completely. Both actors manage to create characters that have fully enveloped the experience of adolescence with its highs and lows; their performances demonstrate a finesse and sophistication usually seen in professional performances. They each broke my heart at least once during the show… and that’s a good thing.  

The voices on these young people are amazing; the lead players all sing with the depth and breadth of seasoned performers. Wendla (Cameron Riolo) and Ilse (Alyssa Serrambana) have fantastic voices: Ms. Riolo’s voice has a beautiful clarity and truth that resonates through the space as she sings “Mama Who Bore Me,” which is a beautiful opening to the show. Ms. Serrambana’s “Blue Wind” is haunting and dark, giving her a sound above and beyond her years. I found myself watching her even during the ensemble numbers because her stage presence just draws you in.

Extra interest in the production comes from the layers of choreography added to some of the musical numbers. Jennifer Kaye’s choreography flows brilliantly from both the actors and the dancers, who add an extra layer of visual interest (Annalisa Biceglia, Emily Grindell, Andrea Laudano, and Cheyenne Santello). As one actor sings, her “shadow” dances and moves through the actor’s moments; it’s like we can see into the character’s memory. The incorporation of sign language in some of the pieces is a nice nod to the recent revival on Broadway (which features a deaf cast): this was especially beautiful and poignant during the closing number as the ensemble signs the lyrics of “The Song of Purple Summer” together, hands all floating in the air. The production is rounded out nicely with a rustic set design by Patrick Laffin, who also co-directed this great production with Marissa Gandelman.

So, seriously folks. Go see this show. Not to give anything away, but during the curtain call, I yelled, “HOLY SH*T! YOU GUYS ROCKED!!” I guess the show just brought out my inner rebellious teenager.