It is no surprise that Ignite Theatre, one of the most energetic companies in the greater Denver area, was the first local company to secure the rights to the provocative new musical Spring Awakening. Based on a book of the same name, this show uses an invigorating rock score to tell the story of adolescents in 1891 Germany who are struggling to understand themselves as adults and sexual beings in a stoic, cold, oppressive environment. The musical won eight 2007 Tony awards when it premiered on Broadway.
Ignite’s Young Cast Fits Easily into Spring Awakening
HE SAID: When Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater pumped a pop rock score into a German tragedy, they found a brilliant way to connect the serious and important themes of the show across time and space. They showed us that we are not that far removed from the ideals of a repressive society, as our teens still struggle with sexuality, abuse, and failure. The impact of the show is great because the challenge it presents the audience is great – watch and listen and ask yourself if you can’t see anything from your life in these scenes.
SHE SAID: This was certainly a groundbreaking musical when it came out, and I really applaud Ignite for taking the plunge into this meaty, rockin’ material and being the first to produce this musical locally. Ignite brought to this production what Ignite brings every time — outstanding vocal sound, talent that is young and insanely fresh, and the most heart and dedication possible. The cast’s excitement for the show was palpable, which is always a really big bonus in my book.
Singer and Russell Stand Out
HE SAID: While this is largely an ensemble piece, with each character contributing to the themes and being affected by the consequences of the action, this production has two heavy standouts – Brooke Singer as Wendla and Chris Russell as Moritz. Singer is almost as good as any Wendla you can imagine – bringing a crushing vulnerability to the girl who pays the ultimate price for her naive choices. Russell has an incredible challenge as his character’s degradation happens of only a few spread out scenes. While being more supported by the band in his number “Don’t Do Sadness” would have assisted his journey, Russel brings a natural evolution to the character that leaves his final tragedy nicely motivated. Conversely, the choice to make the adult teachers near caricatures seemed unnatural. These are adults who maliciously plot to make decisions that end up ruining the life of a teenage boy, so it seemed inappropriate that they were treated as comedy.
SHE SAID: I honestly thought that Singer as Wendla was a on a different level than the other cast members in this show, her singing voice was effortless and pure, her acting was restrained and engaging. Jessica Kincaid as Marta gave a very lovely, quietly wounded performance, and I also enjoyed Russell as Mortiz. All of the cast members were consistently great singers, which meant they could do justice to the amazing score, but they were unfortunately under-supported by the live band at almost every turn. It’s unclear whether the instruments could have been mixed better or placed in a different location, but it was hard to feel the impact of the hardest hitting numbers without the full rock sound.
Design Elements Muffled Messages
HE SAID: Where the production really struggled was with the execution of the design elements. While the ensemble sound was fantastic, the mics were poorly mixed (when they were on) and the band was muffled behind the set while the singers belted their hearts out – an unfortunate balance. The lighting was nicely designed (despite some shadows), but the cues were often late or switched in the middle of scenes. And while the set was impressive, given the use of multiple TV screens, the images displayed had mixed success. Since the decor didn’t change, the times where the images set a location (school, church, field, etc.) for any given scene were great. However, the use of imagery during the numbers were often extremely literal – including one number where they were just the lyrics to the song.
SHE SAID: Ignite made several bold choices — adding the video screens you mention, incorporating splashes of color into the costume plot, and bringing the chair of rock ensemble members fully into to same space as the 1891 ensemble members. I have to vigorously applaud Ignite for their guts in taking these risks — so often the first several local productions of a new musical will timidly stick as close as possible to the original choices. A few of these choices, like the static artwork on the video screens, worked well. Unfortunately, most of these choices distracted from, rather than added to, the central story. I found myself wondering how the chair of rock folks could actually physically interact with the other ensemble members, for example, which prevented me from being fully engrossed in the world of the characters.
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Spring Awakening Struggles but Finds Song of Purple Summer
THEY SAID: It is always exciting when a highly anticipated show receives its regional premiere. It’s a chance to see through fresh eyes or a chance to experience a new work of art for the first time. With Ignite’s production, a lot of ideas struggle in their execution – especially with regards to the technical elements. Hopefully, the lights and sound will smooth out as the run continues. And while there are some performance choices that undercut the potential of the show, there are a few fantastic performances that really show the depth of heartache and beauty in this story that is worth a look any chance you get.