Review: Stray Dog Theatre Shows the Wonders of Purple Summer with 'Spring Awakening'

Erin Karll

Stray Dog Theatre continues its wonderful tradition with this stunning production of 'Spring Awakening'. I am a full fledged 'guilty one'. I have seen multiple productions of 'Spring Awakening' in different states across the country. This production tops as one of my favorites. Every last detail fit like a machine was moving onstage. I have never been so invested in all the characters.

Set in Germany in the 1890s the show follows a group of school age children struggling with the pains of growing up. The girls are separated from the boys and their education is seen as unnecessary. The boys are pushed passed the breaking point to succeed in a system that is staked against them. Abuse, suicide, and sexual encounters are all openly discussed set to an amazing rock inspired soundtrack originally written by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, and at this production performed by an incredible band lead by Jennifer Buchheit. All adult roles are played by two actors one for the female roles Jan Neihoff (adult woman), and one for the male roles Ben Ritchie (adult man) who has one of the best program biography I have ever read.

Stephen Henley (Moritz) is a powerhouse. The audience was laughing and crying as he lead the character up and down an emotional roller coster with the phantom haunting him in dreams and in then in real life Dawn Schmid (Ilse). The chemistry between Riley Dunn (Melchoir) and Allison Arana (Wendla) was perfect and followed the natural arc of the relationship. The boys had boundless energy during my two favorite songs, which I cannot fully name here but are ''...of a Living and 'Totally....'. Luke Steingruby (Hanschen), Jacob Schalk (Dieter, a new character for me), Tristan Davis (Georg), Kevin Corpuz (Otto), and Jackson Buhr (Ernst) brought back all the rage and pent up frustrations of youth. While Angela Bubash (Thea), Brigid Buckley (Martha, who owned the stage during her part of 'Dark I Know Well'), and Annie Heartney (Anna) display the venerability of becoming women.

The staging (Robert M Kapeller) and choreography (Sam Gaitsch) deepening the storytelling for characters that have often played second to the main two couples. A simple crossing the stage made sure the audience did not forget the other students and kept their stories moving forward. The set is simply stunning. Wooden chairs like the original production, band out in plain site, but the backdrop of planks making the outline of a house. The theatre is in an old church and uses the pews as audience seating, which adds so much to the Latin Class
Scene and 'The Guilty Ones'. Wonderful choices from the talented cast and director Justin Been.

This production is a unique and refreshing take on the iconic Tony award winning Broadway production. From opening cord to finale entrances tells the story and leaves the message right onstage. I would recommend this production for any guilty ones who need to see the show again and those who want to see a more edgy piece of theatre. There is nudity and profanity so if that is not something you enjoy you have been warned.

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