Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Adapted from a play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Musical Direction by Michael Horn
Choreography by Jessica Mariko
Starring Anthony Pyatt Jr., Melina Countryman, Adam McCabe
Greater Orlando Actors Theatre at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre
The battle of competing and overlapping Orlando productions continues – this round takes us back to Imperial Germany and the battle to keep children ignorant of sex until they die for it. It’s 1890 something and the French have been beaten, the German economy is booming, and no one acknowledges a single flaw in their perfectly bourgeoisie lives. Trapped between a brutal educational system and a more brutal family model children follow orders and are still beaten regularly, just so They Know You Love Them. Melchior (Pyatt) looks forward to the bohemian days of “Cabaret” while his buddy Moritz (McCabe) trembles before life and lust and can’t even keep his hair under control, much less his penis. The discuss philosophy and Virgil and Melchior casually outlines the details of human reproduction, not realizing this is a state secret on the par with anything at the Krupp Works up in Essen. Over in the girl’s dorm, little Wendla (Countryman) asks her mother (Marion March Skinner) about sex and receives a bigger fairly tale than the stork. Ok, mom, whatever you say.
Skinner nails this role; she reminds me of all my aunts and other ancestors who would die of embarrassment if they explained anything “delicate” to a child. Countryman’s Wendla seems genuinely innocent and when we see her partially disrobed it’s more embarrassing than erotic. As the tragic heroine the writer deprive her of a tragic death on stage and that is the one thing she deserves more than anything. Pyatt’s Melchior is suave and debonair; his oily understanding of the ways of the word would have served him well in the Third Reich. Opposite him is a flustered and out of sorts McCabe. Earnest and beset by electrostatic hair he is obviously not a scholar but could become an excellent lab assistant or Sergeant Schultz had not the system driven him to self immolation. Heck, he was offered a Bohemian orgy of art and poetry and absinthe by Isla (Sarah Villages,) but that was too much for his tortured and gilt-edged soul. Hovering over this cesspit of repressed sex and fawning capitalism is John Edward Palmer. He plays every single male authority figure, and while I like him personally, I wouldn’t want him auditing my time card. Ever.
G.O.A.T.’s staging sticks as close as possible to the Broadway version – we have young men in knee britches (on sale this week at Target’s Back to School Event) and young women in frowsy aniline dyed prints. The parents firmly believe in sparing the rod will spoil the country but ignore that spark of innovation that pulled Germany from The Student Prince into the 20th century. While I question the act of head banging to Duncan Sheik music, his soundtrack provides solid musical with a pair of songs that ought to make it into the Musical Theatre Greatest Hits portfolio: Wendla’s “Mother Who Bore Me” and Melchior’s “Totally Fucked.” I relish the idea of people dressing up to see these performed by a symphony orchestra in 2111.
Overall, this is a technically excellent presentation of a difficult show. The original is rather painful; Sheik and Sater trimmed it down, spruced it up and gave it a great sound track. But the first act belabors issues that the second flies through and nowhere do we see a solution or a promise of hope. True, Germany was on the precipice of disaster, but “Spring Awakening” pushes us to the Great War without the temper of compassion and I left thinking “Sex education could have spared 35 million deaths.” See the show, and tell you kids about condoms when they ask. You love them, don’t you?
For more information on Greater Orlando Actor’s Theatre, please visit http://http://www.goatgroup.com/