Spring has sprung in Cape Town, with an enlightened staging of the youthful rock musical, Spring Awakening, at the Artscape Theatre. A musical about teen angst and stormy emotions, it’s a great fit for the Waterfront Theatre School’s student showcase.
Saying it’s a musical with a teenage perspective does not automatically imply that it isn’t a challenging one. A musical based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, it deals with themes of anxiety, sex, abortion, abuse, depression, and suicide in a conservative and even suppressive 19th century German context, and remains ever relevant in 2019.
Taking on the role of the freethinking and system challenging Melchior, Thinus Viljoen again proves himself a young performer with a great passion and talent for musical theatre. Sara Falconer as his love interest, Wendla, matches his intense performance with a poised innocence and naïvity. Falconer’s opening number of ‘Mama Who Bore Me’ was quite delightful.
Chad Baai as Melchior’s friend, Moritz, fully reveals the vulnerability and confusion of his character to the audience, as Moritz struggles to meet the almost impossible standards set by his teachers and father. ‘Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind’, his duet with Nicolette Fernandes as the rebel Ilse, is a moving highlight.
For this reviewer, Fernandes, with her commanding stage presence and impressive vocals, was the standout performance on opening night. Another performer that impressed was Mika Calitz as Georg, the student infatuated with the curves of his piano teacher.
In the build-up to big moments, such as ‘The Bitch of Living’ and ‘Totally Fucked’, Spring Awakening calls for a space that allows both the audience and the performers to breathe. The Artscape Arena may be too intimate a space for a musical of this emotive magnitude, with big anthems and poignant ballads that has an immense rock heartbeat. The impressive contemporary choreography by Genna Galloway and the striking design by Greg King will arguably also be better served if their vision could be displayed to its full effect in a more spacious setting.
The space concerns do not take anything away from the heart and commitment of the young performers and the creative team. The cast should also be applauded for showing great maturity and professionalism in their response to technical gremlins, which they handled with great care and without breaking character-connections with the audience.
The Waterfront Theatre School’s production of the teenage tragedy, Spring Awakening (directed by Paul Griffin with musical direction by Garth Tavares), is onstage at the Artscape Theatre’s Arena until 20 July 2019. Tickets are available online through Computicket.
Please note that the production carries an age restriction of PG16. Trigger warning: Themes of physical abuse and suicide are explored in this show.