When I first heard that Boston College would perform Spring Awakening as the spring musical, I was shocked, giddy with excitement, and full of questions. After all, when the show took Broadway by storm in 2006, it left its audience completely stunned.
Sure, theatergoers were buzzing about its hauntingly beautiful musical score brimming with harmonies, cadences, and lyrics that infected them with goose bumps. But many shows do that. And sure, the plot blasts attendees with teenage suicide, masturbation, and the issue of abortion, but there was something more. Something that slapped New York City across the face, leaving jaws dropped, heart rates racing, and cheeks blushed. It was a scene so controversial, so blunt and so forward, it left many young Broadway lovers wishing they hadn’t gone to see this show with their parents.
You know that awkward moment when your parents walk into the room right as the TV show or movie you’re watching hits its raunchy sex scene? Spring Awakening is like that… on crack. Picture this: you’re sitting in a rather intimate theater setting, when all of a sudden, the sex scene happens. Only this time, they’re not just acting out “the act.” There’s not lighting fade. They’re just up there, having sex, right in front of you. Raw, uninhibited sex.
Obviously, when I heard our Jesuit institution was performing such a controversial show, I was erupting with questions.
Growing up a musical theater geek (yes, I was Leisl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, and yes the show fell on my 17th birthday, making me literally 16 going on 17) I knew the Spring Awakening score well. All my friends had seen the musical… twice. They told me the story line as we drove home from school, allowing original cast lead, Lea Michele, to sing us all the way home.
The show takes place in 19th century Germany, in a community where describing the topic of sexuality as taboo is an understatement. In fact, only one liberal-minded character, Melchior (originally played by Jonathon Groff) even knows what sex is. This makes the sex scene even more powerful: the audience watches as his naïve partner, Wendla, although willing, gives herself to him without the slightest idea of what she is doing. Oh yes, we had previously watched as Wendla had begged her mother to tell her how contraception occurs, only to be told obvious lies.
The plot, which had me erupting in laughter in one instance and crying in the next, left me walking out of the theater emotionally rocked.
I had entered BC’s Bonn Theater, a tiny black box theater that seats around 50 or 60 people, anxious for the show to begin, and still bubbling with curiosity. I had been waiting to see this show since it came out in 2006. Now, the music that I loved so much would be performed live in front of me. How would student director Kasey Brown deal with the many controversial scenes? Would the student actors be able to uphold the emotional intensity that defines the show? Would I fall in love with Melchior as I expected? Would sophomore Tory Berner, playing Wendla, live up to the legend of Lea Michele? Would the cast’s harmonies strike my trained ears in perfect pitch?
The answers to all of the above came in the opening song: “Mama Who Bore Me.” Yes, I could listen to Berner’s voice all day. When she began the song, her sweetly rich vocal quality, perfectly innocent for her character, demanded my attention as a smile stretched across my face. And as she hit her first crescendo with impressive control, I thought to myself, “Yes. This is going to be fantastic.”
Then, when the four other female leads, played by Lili Chasen, Samantha Goober, Monica Lynn Wright, and Kathryn Raskin, joined her onstage for the reprise a few minutes later, their voices split into the first harmonious chord of the show, forcing my hairs to stand on edge as I absorbed every second of their perfect pitch and voice blend. It may sound over-the-top, but hey. It is what it is.
Of course I can’t forget the men of the show, who were equally as impressive as their female counterparts. Alex Olivieri played alongside Tory Berner as the liberal Melchoir. A complex character, to say the least, Olivieri executed his character in convincing form. Every line delivered, I was right there with him. Every note he sang left me overjoyed. The show lived up to every expectation I had. In fact, it may have surpassed them.
Tom Mezger, Owen Grover, Taylor Macleod, Jake Hunzeker, and Jake Alexander portrayed the rolls of the other teenage boys in this German town, all equally confused about their sexuality. In my favorite scene, we see the four girls singing a naïve song (“My Junk”) about their crushes on these boys, and the boys chime in, singing about their sexual wants, one masturbating on stage, the other fantasizing about his piano teacher’s breasts. The juxtaposition was hysterical thanks to the excellent stage direction and choreography.
They nailed it. Oh yes, I loved every awkward moment.
I loved it almost as much as when the characters came into the audience, sitting on laps and singing to us in “Totally Fucked,” during the second half of the show. Completely invested and in love with the characters, the energy was contagious from stage to seat. We were experiencing the joy, the love, the confusion, and the pain that our beloved characters were experiencing right in front of us. Oh, they hooked us, all right.
Throughout the show, three ensemble members sat among the crowd: Sarah Mass, Julianne Quass, and Nate Richardson. I was one of the lucky audience members sitting nearby. Listening to their voices, it was obvious that each member of the cast was as talented as the next, completing the dynamic performance that it was.
Korey McIsaac and Maggie Kearnan, who played the adult characters of the show, equally impressed me. From stern to supportive, ridiculous, to nurturing, they hit it all.
I could, perhaps go on forever, but I should end with the question you all are wondering: HOW DID THEY DO THE SEX SCENE?
Well, there were two sex scenes, actually. And both were done exquisitely. No, I did not see fellow students having sex on stage. But Olivieri and Berner courageously preformed the mature scene with conviction. No, we didn’t see anything scandalous, and it wasn’t raunchy or prude for that matter, but rather, it was tastefully and artistically done.
Perhaps my only complaint is that I was only able to see the show once. Hats off, cast and crew, to a phenomenal show.