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SCENE IT: SPRING AWAKENING, the hottest ticket in town!

Maria Kearns

 

As a theatregoer, no matter how religiously one attends productions in this fine city, one simply does not often get to enjoy the experience of leaving your seat at the end of a performance consumed, overwhelmed, and undeniably addled by an irrepressible desire to go straight back in and watch the whole show again from the start.

When one is afforded such a moment, therefore, the details must be bellowed far and wide in the hope that as many good Capetonians as possible are able to benefit from the same divine theatrical visitation. Spring Awakening, a Luitingh Alexander Musical Theatre Academy production currently on at Theatre on the Bay, is such a show.

With book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening is a rock musical (based on the 1891 Wedekind play Frühlings Erwachen) that made its Broadway debut in 2006. Since then, the musical’s won a slew of awards and been revived multiple times.


The show tells the story of a group of teenagers in turn-of-the-century Germany as they grapple with the confusion of puberty, which is disastrously compounded by their parents’ and teachers' puritanical refusal to acknowledge what they’re going through and provide them with guidance.


Back to present-day Camps Bay:


There’s nothing quite like finding your seats, glancing up at the set in front of you, and exhaling as you realise you’re in the best of hands. Niall Griffin’s evocative and minimalist (but highly functional) set will do much to convince you that you’ve somehow been transplanted to a West End theatre—or even to late 19th century Germany. Throughout the show, Griffin’s handiwork serves as an integral part of the story—a silent, indespensible cast member shaping and supporting the action taking place on it.


Griffin’s costumes are also unimprovable and aid in the seemingly effortless conjuring of time, place, and the social expectations and constriction that go with those elements.

Director Sylvaine Strike has pulled off an absolute triumph here. The strong ensemble, whose clear talent and commitment definitely preclude it from being classed as a student company, shines during every minute of the show. The cast’s commitment and focus are tangible, and the audience is treated to an unceasing series of striking visual tableaux and some truly strong, meaningful storytelling throughout.


The choreography (by Anna Olivier and Naoline Quinzin) is clearly conceptualised and serves the story throughout, creating a truly mesmerising effect, especially in the forest scenes.


Leads Scarlett Pay (Wendla) and Dylan Janse van Rensburg (Melchior) are utterly convincing and watchable, and Johnathan Conrad (Moritz) and Noa Duckitt (Ilse) deserve special mentions for their energetic, note-perfect performances. Amy Campbell has, to put it mildly, made a grand success of her first Musical Director appointment.


It seems silly to pick highlights, as there isn’t a low moment in the show, but if forced, I’d name ‘The Word of Your Body’, ‘The Dark I Know Well’, ‘Totally Fucked’, ‘And Then There Were None’, and ‘Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind’.

Natalie Robbie and Francis Chouler appear to be having the time of their lives in the roles of the various adults. As the only characters (apart from the reform school boys) who speak in heavy German accents in this contemporary rock musical, we immediately understand the gulf between the older characters, who cling to tradition, religion, fear, and repression, and the children, who yearn for knowledge, freedom, and a new way of life. Robbie and Chouler do an impeccable job of potraying both the cartoonishly cruel schoolteachers and a number of hapless parents ranging from the well-meaning caregiver to the overbearing, abusive pater familias.


Does it qualify as ironic that the best piece of musical theatre you’re likely to see in Cape Town this year is a perfectly developed and executed production about a cast of tragically searching, desperate young characters in an agonising state of flux?

This really cannot be stressed enough: If you’ve budgeted to attend one musical this year, make it Spring Awakening.


Spring Awakening will be running at Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town until the 6th of April 2024 before transferring to the Pieter Toerien Montecasino Main Theatre in Johannesburg, where it will run from the 12th of April to the 5th of May 2024. Book through Webtickets.

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