BareStage’s ‘Spring Awakening’ touches upon matters of sex, academic stress

Bare Stage Productions/Courtesy

BareStage Production’s adaptation of the 2006 Broadway musical “Spring Awakening” discusses issues of teenage rebellion, suicide and sexual discovery on stage through a captivating performance.

“Spring Awakening” tells the coming-of-age story of teenagers in provincial Germany. As they ask questions about sex, their oppressive parents push them further and further into naiviety. While this is at first comedic, this ignorance that spirals the teens into catastrophic dysfunction leaves the audience squirming in their seats.

When Wendla Bergmann (Zinah Abraha) has sex with her lover Melchior Gabor (Yohana Ansari-Thomas), she’s blissfully unaware of the possibility of pregnancy. Her overbearing mother (Madeleine Pla) has Wendla convinced that babies are made out of just true love between two spouses, and the scandal that results from this lack of understanding sets up one of the show’s main conflicts. Also explored by the musical are the pressures for academic perfection. The nervous but lovable Moritz Stiefel (Benjamin Schaub) is under intense pressure and is left with serious questions about his self-worth.

The musical opens with more lighthearted scenes of the young adolescents nervously discussing sexual fantasies and wondering how babies are made. It quickly transitions into more serious scenes, though, such as conversations about sexual abuse. This push and pull between comedic and heavier scenes happens instantly but fluidly. Because of the genuine and convincing acting, the transitions aren’t abrupt at all. This leaves the audience laughing alongside the characters at one moment and at the edge of their seats at the next.

Some scenes do fall flat, though. Compared to the rest of the musical, “Left Behind,” sung during a funeral scene, seems forced and unnatural. Also, during some of the musical numbers like “Touch Me” and “I Believe,” the entire cast appears out of nowhere, which is a little jarring to watch. It detracts from the immediate acting scenes at hand and makes it difficult to follow during the first seconds of the numbers.

But overall, this musical is powerful; each and every one of the songs are performed with so much energy. During the songs, the scene immediately before is frozen on stage, so the lyrics expose the thoughts of the characters as they experience the scene. “The Dark I Know Well” and other more serious ballads give you chills with just how much emotion is layered in the content of the lyrics and the manner in which they’re sung. And the more spunky, rock songs such as “Totally Fucked” have edgy lyrics that’ll leave you having just as much fun as the cast clearly does performing them.

While the themes of the musical are pretty “dark,” as director Jessica Slaght says in the program, they are extremely relevant to a college audience. It wasn’t too long ago that everyone in the audience was getting that awkward sex-ed talk, and it’s all too often that young men and women are being sexually assaulted today. Academic pressures and the sometimes fatal consequences of the build-up of those pressures are topics that hit home as well. This relatability is the show’s biggest strength, and when combined with the cast’s strong acting and vocals, BareStage’s “Spring Awakening” is a must-watch.

Most importantly, it reintroduces a number of important conversations. When the original play “Spring Awakening” came out in 1891, it was banned from running because of its scandalous subject matter. While these scenarios may not be considered taboo today, they’re still important to talk about, which this musical does an incredible job of pointing out. Slaght writes in the program that her vision was to “consider the scenarios that young people find themselves in and how we can better prepare them by talking openly not just about safety, but about pleasure, boundaries, active consent, and shame.”

By acting out the consequences that follow from refusing to have these conversations, “Spring Awakening” successfully ties these important themes together. It draws you in slowly, and by intermission, you’ll wonder how something that started off so lighthearted and comedic could have the emotional depth to take your breath away. And by the end, the cast’s passionate performance fully transports you from the audience and lets you live through each moment alongside them. BareStage’s “Spring Awakening” is so worth the watch.

Contact Priyanka Achalu at [email protected].