La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada
Through March 30
Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.;
Friday, 8 p.m.;
Saturday, 7 and 10:30 p.m.;
Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m.
Tickets: 562.944.9801 or 714.994.6310
I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving to La Mirada Theatre’s unveiling of their new Onstage Series, opening with the critically acclaimed and Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening. After a rather hectic Friday evening commute, we arrived later than I prefer, but were happy to find immediate free parking and we took a deep breath and were on our way to this new theater experience.
Ushered down a hallway and guided through pipe and drape, we felt like we were entering a secret society initiation of sorts. Atmospheric and intimate, we were guided to our seats, two out of the limited 199, three banks of seats set up as a thrust stage, which cradle the performance stage and backdrop. No turning back, we took our seats and settled in for a voyeuristic encounter with this provocative show.
Based on the expressionist play written in 1891 by German author Frank Wedekind, book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by '90s pop musician Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening took home eight Tony Awards in 2007 and quickly developed a Broadway cult following. (The musical’s groupies call themselves “The Guilty Ones.”) It tells the story of a tight-knit group of teenagers and how they deal with puberty, their changing bodies, their feelings and emotions in their repressed German society. Serious themes touched on are not for the faint of heart - masturbation, child abuse, rape, incest, pregnancy, homosexuality, lust, and suicide.
I have to admit, I am not a member of The Guilty Ones - I aged out of that demographic quite a few years ago. But my heart and mind still remember how it felt to be a teenager, and actually, I am reminded daily by my 15-year-old son, who accompanied me to this production. That was interesting, but I’ll get to that later...
La Mirada’s Artistic Director Brian Kite, assisted by Alexis Jacknow, switched it up in this production, not only with the thrust staging, but by eliminating the use of hand-held microphones, which has been a Spring Awakening trademark prop, used to create some theme distinction within the rock score. It was a wise choice, as I think this would have proven too much in this small and focused setting. I have seen this show before, am very familiar with the score and the story, but in this new staging, I was able to really emotionally connect and take away so much more. For this show, this staging is the best I have seen, and suits the content beautifully - in a larger house, you really miss all the wonderful and disturbing nuances that make Spring Awakening so brilliant.
Musically directed by John Glaudini, the band is spot on, as is the lighting design of Steven Young. (Loved the strobe effects when the teenagers were particularly filled with angst.) Set design by Rich Rose and sound by Josh Bessom, hair and makeup by Sarah Wolfe and property design by Terry Hanrahan, this team is to be commended for taking this show to a higher level. Another triumph is the edgy choreography orchestrated by Dana Solimando, assisted by Gretchen Dawson. Through their direction, the angst-filled teens vacillate between control and upheaval, and combined with the lighting design, it creates a powerful and emotional experience.
Terrific casting choices for the 11 young adults and the two authority figures, who range in experience from Off/On Broadway to television to professional pop vocalists to students in theater school. Cal State Fullerton Musical Theatre grad Micaela Martinez and UCLA sophmore Austin MacPhee portray the doomed lovers Wendla and Melchior with great sensitivity and wonderful musicality. Spring Awakening national tour alum and UCLA undergrad Coby Getzug returns to his role as the troubled and stressed out Moritz and really has perfected this integral part, which takes on the issue of teen suicide.
The lecherous Hanschen is skillfully played by Nick Adorno, while his love interest, Ernst, is sweetly portrayed by Christopher Higgins and the perverted Georg is comically acted by Alex Mendoza. Salisha Thomas, an undergrad at Cal State Fullerton and currently the reigning “Miss Fullerton” plays sexually and physically abused Martha, Texas State alum Jennifer Foster is Anna, NYU Tisch School alum Bruce Merkle is Otto, and Pace University graduate Cailan Rose plays Thea.
Alyssa Simmons’ performance was the standout for me as Ilse - tough yet extremely fragile, her portrayal is powerful and memorable. These young actors, the majority all well-trained college graduates in the arts are inspiring to watch practice their craft with ability and determination. Their performances certainly can inspire young actors to stay in school and hone their craft. It pays off onstage.
The two authority figures, presented by Linda Kerns and Michael Rothhaar are seemless in their transitions between roles from the evil headmaster and headmistress to the caring to the callous parents. A simple scarf or hat transformed them and it was absolutely believable.
Spring Awakening is an interesting piece of theater - a dark and provocative theme, even in today’s standards. Its musical score is infectious, sad and beautiful. It is understandable why it has its place in pop culture/musical theater history. It is not for everyone, as its topics will make you intentionally uncomfortable.
I think it may have been a toss-up as to who squirmed more, myself or my teenage companion... my protective maternal side was telling me he was too young to see this (nudity, swearing, sex - yikes!), but actually, he is the perfect age to experience Spring Awakening, as the characters are his contemporaries, and the issues are relevant. It certainly is a show that can inspire some dialog with your child, awkward as that may be... mine was a bit hesitant to talk to me about it, but at the end of the night, he thanked me for taking him. Initiation to a more adult theater experience has now passed, and it couldn’t happen at a greater theater and significant show.