Who knew there were so many kinds of pasties in the world? Pasties shaped like flames, pasties shaped like wolf paws and my personal favorites, pasties shaped like faucet knobs. The women wearing the pasties were similarly diverse: all shapes, sizes, talents and gimmicks. But they all were at Angel Burlesque’s Open Bra: Spring Scream to get up and take it off.

According to a fabulous recent article in NUVO, we currently have no less than six burlesque troops operating right here in the Circle City. While Angel Burlesque hosted the event at Cracker’s Comedy Club, dancers from other troupes, or “independent” dancers not affiliated with any troupe, also strutted their stuff on the tiny stage. Emcee Jeff Angel described the event as “an open mic night, except with boobs.” That sums it up pretty well. From uber-experienced Sugar Lee with a list of accomplishments a mile long to first-timer Lady Katie, dancers of all experience levels stripped down to thongs and pasties.

If you’ve never been to a burlesque show, it’s hard to describe. Every performer put their own unique spin on the genre. Some sing–one woman just sang, not removing a single article of clothing. Most dance, and all but a few shucked down to their skivvies. Many incorporate comedy and elaborate storytelling. The theme of the evening’s entertainment was horror, which meant we saw everything from alien invasions to creepy dolls to a stellar Psycho homage.

Interestingly, burlesque isn’t about sex. Okay, it’s about sex, but it’s far more about sensuality and confidence, about reclaiming your body. The best dancers weren’t the thinnest or the most toned. The best performers were the ones who looked at the audience with a mocking smile and said with their eyes, “I don’t need you or your approval. I’m doing this for me, and I choose to let you watch.” Interestingly, more than half of the audience were women, further confirming these performances aren’t about sheer titilation. They’re about empowerment and fun and a little sexiness and a lot of silliness. These are women who are nurses and engineers and office workers by day and who let their hair down and their boobs out at night. As performer Pepper Mills told me, “this is my way of doing drag.” It’s part performance, part therapy and entirely compelling.

Standout performances included a sinister version of “Be Prepared” from The Lion King, performed by Jackie Max, a hilarious spoof of Carrie performed by MaMarie LeVeaux (who tied in my pick for best burlesque name along with Holly Hock) with an assist from Souxie Snapdragon and that Psycho homage I mentioned, performed by Holly Hock. Star performer award goes to Ginger Peach, the only dancer to perform twice, once in Colonel Sanders drag, complete with bucket of fried chicken and feathery pasties, and then as a sexy Jason Voorhees of Friday the Thirteenth fame. Ginger got it. She knew it doesn’t matter how much or how little you’re wearing, whether you’re in a goatee or a thong. What matters is how comfortable you feel in your own skin. And that’s a little something we all could learn from burlesque.

Angel Burlesque’s next Open Bra event will be Nerdgasmin July, but you can catch their Improv-A-Tease with Tessa von Twinkle on May 11. For more information, visit angelburlesque.com.

Reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of Angel Burlesque.

When I told a Jewish friend I was going to see Fiddler on the Roof, she sighed happily. “That show feeds my soul,” she said. And even this gentile can see why. Fiddler has been a stage classic since its 1964 debut. In many ways, the show is little changed by the passage of time. With a few exceptions, the costuming, staging, singing and acting are all something out of a time warp. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For those of you who, like me, weren’t aware, there is no actual fiddler in the show. Okay, there is, but he’s a metaphor for the precarious situation of the Jews living in a small village in Russia in the early 1900s. Mostly they live in peace with each other and with their gentile neighbors, but at any time, the delicate balance can shift and send them all crashing to the ground.

The story follows Tevye (John Preece, who has been performing the role for more than ten years) and his five daughters. There’s romance, drama, heartache and forgiveness, all set against a backdrop of traditional Eastern European Jewish life, where men and women can’t touch each other and men always wear fringed cloths around their waists (why? Because it’s tradition). But that tradition is running straight into modern Russia, where men and women don’t just touch, they dance together (prompting a fun moment that had me thinking of Footloose), and where Jews are becoming an endangered species. It forces us to look at the role tradition plays in our lives, how it can hamper us and hold us back from progress and love, but how also how tradition binds us together and reminds us who we are and where we’re from when the whole world flies apart. And that’s something worth remembering.

This touring production benefits from a gargauntuan cast. In a time when so many Broadway shows are being pared down to the fewest possible cast members, seeing and hearing a cast of more than 30 singers and dancers is a treat. The vocals in the group numbers hit you like a brick wall, in the best way possible. It’s the kind of singing that resonates in your chest and makes your whole body vibrate. It’s fantastic, especially in the opening number “Tradition,” and the boisterous, all-male “To Life.” But even in intimate moments, like the quiet and reflective “Sabbath Prayer” or the dreamy and tragic “Anatevka” benefit from so many voices singing in perfect harmony. The individual numbers are considerably weaker, though you’ll certainly recognize standards like “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and of course, “If I Were a Rich Man.”

The group numbers are beautiful to see and complex and stunning to hear

Unexpectedly, the dancing was also a high point in the production. This isn’t your traditional Broadway kick line–this is traditional Jewish and Russian dancing, including intricate line dances, athletic feats where men dance with glasses on their heads and that little Russian kicking dance. You know the one. It’s acrobatic and beautiful and just a delight to watch.

The lighting, both gentle effects that emulated dawn and dusk and dramatic backlighting did an excellent job of setting the mood, along with a sparse and unremarkable set. Mostly ho-hum peasant costumes were enlivened by beautiful flashes, like wedding jackets lined with bright colors.

Fiddler on the Roof doesn’t break any new ground, but maybe that’s okay. You won’t find any surprises here, but you might just find a great big bowl of matzah ball soup for the soul.

Reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of Broadway Across America Indianapolis. Fiddler on the Roof plays at the Murat Theatre at the Old National Centre through March 11. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit indianapolis.broadway.com.

It’s a room you’ve seen a hundred times before. It’s classic and tasteful, the lighting soft, the couches buttery Italian leather. Precious and beautiful objects are displayed with the revernce of museum pieces. But there’s a hint of something wrong–the orange on the walls is just a bit too strident, the chair and couch seating combination just a bit off-balanced. From the instant you look at the set for God of Carnage, you know that you’ll be dealing with sophisticated, urbane yuppies who love their kids, shop at Whole Foods and always, always recycle. But what you’ll also be dealing with is projectile vomiting, hamster murder and a hilariously foul-mouthed comedy of manners.

From left to right, Tim Grimm, Shannon Holt, Constance Macy and Ryan Artzberger in God of Carnage

Being a native of Zionsville, that posh enclave just to the northwest of Indianapolis that makes Stepford look unkempt, the characters and the setting of this play spoke to me deeply. The plot is simple: Two parents meet to discuss a fight between their 11-year-old sons. There are only four characters, the seemingly-gentile Veronica and Michael Novak (parents of the victim) and uptight, career-driven Annette and Alan Raleigh (parents of the aggressor). As the parents discuss the incident, layers of civility are peeled back, slowly and masterfully. You don’t only hear the devolution of manners and accepted rules of politeness in the dialogue (which was brilliantly written by French playwright Yasmina Reza), but even more impressively, you see it unfold. You see the parents’ choice of beverages change from espresso to coffee to Coca-Cola to rum. You see jackets come off, hair come down, high heels kicked under a table. And you see that for all the fine trappings and beautiful things and protestations of civilization, we’re all just men and women, only a few steps up from our cavemen ancestors.

Civility quickly gives way to savagery in God of Carnage

Does that all sound a little high faluting for you? Because it’s not. At all. This is a hysterical play, from the earnest discussion of why hamsters are creepy to an ongoing bit involving a bluetooth headset to some impressive physical slapstick, this is the kind of play that makes you squirm uncomfortably even as tears of laughter roll down your face. While the action takes place entirely in one room on one day, the action never drags. The jokes are sharp and the action is thought-provoking.

The cast has a heavy task on their hands. With a few brief exceptions, all four actors are on stage for the entire 90-minute show. No breaks, no pauses, nowhere to hide. And they perform remarkably well. Tim Grimm is both jocular and menacing as Michael the hamster killer; Constance Macy is hilariously unhinged as Annette; and even Ryan Artzberger, who I’ve roundly criticized in the past for playing too much to the cheap seats, finds his rhythm and stride as career-obsessed Alan. But it’s IRT-newcomer Shannon Holt as Veronica who stole the show. She begins as a crunchy-granola type, all full of concern about Darfur and full of righteous indignation over her son’s attack, but by the end, she’s a delightful drunken mess, engaging in some tricky and impressive physical comedy to uproarious laughter.

Shannon Holt as Veronica Novak steals the show

God of Carnageis the best show the IRT has put on all season. In a line-up of pretty great shows, that’s saying something. It’s funny and thought provoking, beautifully staged and well acted. And if you see a hamster wandering the streets, won’t you call the Novaks and let them know?

Reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of the IRT. God of Carnage runs through March 24. Tickets are available at irtlive.com..

Radio Golf is a perfect encapsulation of everything there is to love and hate about the IRT.

I love their bold vision in staging August Wilson’s racially provocative Radio Golf here in Indy, just steps from the Madame C.J. Walker Theatre, and where we pretend race is an issue of the past. Radio Golf is the last of Wilson’s ten-part play chronicling the African American experience in the 20th century. Set in the 1990s, the play follows real estate developer and would-be mayor of Pittsburgh Harmond Wilks (James Craven)as he attempts to revitalize his boyhood neighborhood. A moral wrench is thrown into his plans when Old Joe (Abdul Salam El Razzac) claims he still owns the old house that must be demolished for the new construction.

James Craven stars as aspiring politician Harmond Wilks
I hate the script. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Plot holes abound (Starbucks, Whole Foods AND Barnes and Nobles were all going to build in a neighborhood where you have to pay people to watch your car or risk losing your golf clubs?)and the plot veers onto nonsensical tangents. While this might have been a tight, 90-minute play, its two and a half hour running time feels bloated and indulgent.

I love how at the IRT the most talented actors usually have the smallest parts, desperately leaving me wanting more, especially Austene Van as Harmon’d long-suffering wife, and Razzac, who delivers an idiosyncratic but inspired performance.

Austene Van and Abdul Salam El Razzac shine

I hate that the direction always lacks subtlety. Why whisper when a shout will do? The entire second half seems to devolve into yelling and accusations–you sold out! You kissed the white man’s ass! Any nuance is lost in a sea of shouting.

I love the gorgeous set and lighting design. It’s never less than spectacular, from the gently peeling paint and exposed utility panels to the gentle glow of dawn or the drab hum of fluorescent lights. The sets at the IRT are always a treat.

Unfortunately, I have to dub Radio Golf a failure, but it’s mostly due to the aforementioned bloated and rambling script. But it’s a bold failure: bold for the IRT to choose the show and present it as they did. And I admire them greatly for that. Don’t ever stop pushing that envelope, guys. Sometimes a bold failure is better than a safe success.

Radio Golf plays at the IRT through January 29, 2012. Tickets are available at irtlive.com. My tickets were provided courtesy IRT. Please note I attended a preview performance, so details may change in the final production.

What would happen if four of the most influential men in music history got together and did what they loved? We actually don’t have to wonder. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins gathered at Sun Records in Memphis. It was the first and only time the four men would play together.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is a dramatized version of that evening. They’ve tarted it up with a flimsy bit of story–will Sun Records owner Sam Phillips sell out to big, bad RCA records?–but the show is ultimately about reliving some of the most incredible music of the 20th century.

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet

There’s a moment near the end of the show where the four men sing the old gospel number “Down by the Riverside” while Perkins accompanies them on electric guitar. Just for a moment, you truly glimpse the enormity of what these men did. You see the instant that country and gospel and blues began to morph into rockabilly, that hybrid sound that would become rock ‘n’ roll.

The show is full of the songs that made these men immortal, and everyone gets a chance to shine: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire.” In particular, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Sixteen Tons” are standout company numbers. But the quiet moments are beautiful, too, like when Elvis sings “Peace in the Valley” in memory of his twin brother. The show also includes an incredibly fun holiday encore of “Run Rudolph Run,” complete with sleigh bells.

Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter) comes complete with real hip swivel action

The cast is full of energy and love. Not only do they sound uncannily like the characters they’re portraying, they play all their own instruments, live and unaided. Elvis is actually played by Cody Slaughter, an Elvis “tribute artist” with no musical theater experience to speak of. Derek Keeling as Johnny Cash hits some incredible bass notes and exemplifies the quiet strength of the man in black. Lee Ferris as Carl Perkins has a ball, wailing on an electric guitar and wearing his trademark blue suede shoes.

But it’s Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) who steals the show. Who would have thought that an Englishman like Kaye could play a rockabilly star from Louisiana? You can’t keep your eyes off the man. Watching his hands on the piano is worth the price of admission alone: he pounds on the keys, banging those ivories for all he’s worth. He’s full of energy and verve and bravado and is a complete delight.

Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) steals the show with his piano playing

If you’re into big, sweeping musicals with dance numbers and lavish costumes, this isn’t the show for you. There’s one pseudo-costume change and the dancing is confined to Elvis’ hip swivels and Carl Perkins’ slide. If you go to musicals for big casts and production numbers, skip this one. The story is an afterthought and the cast is only eight strong (the four stars, Sam Phillips, a bass player, a drummer and Elvis’ girlfriend).

But if you want to get as close as possible to seeing these legends in concert, you’ll love this. If you want to relive the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll’s youth, this is for you. If you just want to get lost in some incredible music, don’t miss Million Dollar Quartet.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre through December 18. For tickets, please click here. The reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of Broadway Across America Indianapolis. Pictures courtesy Million Dollar Quartet.

For many of us, experiencing Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is an unbreakable holiday tradition. Everyone has a favorite version and very particular ways about how it should be done–it should be scary! It should be funny! It should be kid-friendly! It should be serious!

Unfortunately, the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s version of A Christmas Carol tries to be all things to all people. While it’s a cute, well-staged show that might appeal to children, it appeals little to adults and breaks no new ground in this holiday classic.

A young Ebeneezer Scrooge (Matthew Brumlow) dances with his lady love Belle (Minita Gandhi).

The show is plagued right off the bat with a strange casting choice for Ebeneezer Scrooge. Instead of choosing a wizened old man, the production cast IRT veteran Ryan Artzberger as the covetous old sinner. Artzberger is, at the outside, 35 years old. This presents some narrative problems: Scrooge is now the same age as his nephew Fred, and his entire life becomes compressed. Scrooge’s long-ago love affair with Belle suddenly becomes a matter that must have ended only a few years ago.

Ebeneezer Scrooge (Ryan Artzberger) with Tiny Tim (Gracie Evans)

Besides the issue of age, Artzberger simply doesn’t make sense in the role. I’m not sure if it’s direction or the actor, but Scrooge laughs, chortles, giggles and snickers his way through the role. After having his epiphany at the hands of the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge becomes a bumbling, slapstick idiot, constantly producing a high, inane giggle. It’s bizarre.

Likewise, the stage adaptation, written by Tom Haas, suffers from significant problems. Rather than having one narrator to deliver some of Dicken’s most iconic lines, the narrative ball is passed among the entire cast, with actors giving narration as asides. Sometimes the entire cast will speak the line, making it difficult to understand. The script also fails to truly show us the arc of Scrooge’s change of heart. We never see Scrooge reflecting on what he’s learned in his visions, and Artzberger doesn’t show us much emotion as he watches the scenes of Scrooge’s life unfold.

On the plus side, the supporting cast has some real gems. Matthew Brumlow shines as both Fred and a Young Scrooge, and Rob Johansen brings genuine warmth to the wholesome role of Bob Cratchit. Minita Gandhi is beautiful as both Belle and Martha Crachit, and the entire cast of children do a fine job.

Bob Cratchit (Rob Johnansen) hoists Tiny Tim (Gracie Evans)

As always at the IRT, the stage design is impeccable. Snow covers the entire stage, and the actors use it well, having impromptu snowball fights with the audience and each other. Trap doors are used to great and surprising effect, and the lighting is appropriately eerie and Christmasy as needs dictate. I especially loved the use of dollhouses on sleds to depict different scenes in Scrooge’s life. Lighting design is lovely, especially with regard to Dickens’ beloved lamplighters.

IRT does a great job appealing to kids with this show and getting everyone into the holiday spirit. Madrigal singers filled the lobby and an elf and a reindeer stood outside on the day I visited. It’s a wonderfully festive atmosphere. Kids will truly enjoy the show, but it might just all feel a bit too familiar to adults.

The messages of love, goodwill, concern for humanity and helping the less fortunate have never been more relevant. But this production chooses to gloss over those deeper meanings in favor of slapstick. And maybe that’s okay, but I wanted a bit more meat on my Christmas goose.

The reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of IRT. St. Vincent Health Presents Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will run through December 24. Tickets and more information are available at IRTlive.com.

Most of us will live, die and promptly be forgotten. But a chosen few manage to supersede our inherent mediocrity to achieve immortality. These aren’t always good people, not always people we like. But we’ll never forget their names.

Like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In the newly rechristened Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s version of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (also the basis for the wildly popular 1984 film of the same name), our protagonist is not Mozart. It’s Antonio Salieri (John Michael Goodson), the Italian composer to the glittering Viennese court at the end of the 18th century.

Salieri longs to serve God, to glorify Him through his music and piety and good works. But all that crumbles away when he meets Mozart (Jeremy Allen Brimm). All of Salieri’s sacrifice and toil mean nothing in the face of the overwhelming talent of the disgusting man-child prodigy. So Salieri sets out to destroy Mozart–mind, body and soul.

It’s a simple story of envy, coming to terms with one’s own limitations and revenge, but it’s brilliantly told. The story relies heavily on Goodson’s Salieri, and he does a tremendous job. He’s on stage for nearly every moment of the show, both as a withered old man (with a spectacularly bad wig), then as the young and vital composer. He stalks through every scene with malevolent, heartfelt glee, purring with satisfaction at his every victory against Mozart and and raging at God for choosing such an imperfect vessel for His avatar with great finesse. Goodson, quite simply, makes the show.

But the supporting cast does an excellent job as well: Brimm’s Mozart is disgusting and bawdy, as he’s meant to be, Mikayla Anne Reed is charming as Mozart’s wife, Constanze. And the two “Venticelli,” (Clay Mabbitt and John O’Brien) Salieri’s gossip mongers, are endlessly amusing. But the best supporting player is the music. Clips from some of Mozart’s best pieces are incorporated into the play, from the playful joy of the Marriage of Figaro to the bombastic terror of Don Giovanni to the somber strains of the Requiem, we’re never allowed to forget just how extraordinary this flawed man was.

The stage design is lovely and the costume design is even better, with sumptuous gowns and embroider waistcoats abounding. The Civic has found a really wonderful new home in the plush Booth Tarkington Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel–it’s brand new and beautiful.

Amadeus is a wonder. It’s by turns hilarious, deeply touching and thought-provoking. And the next time you find yourself envying your more talented colleagues, remember you can always ask for absolution from that patron saint of mediocrity Salieri.

Amadeus is playing at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre located at the Center for the Performing Arts through November 12. Tickets are available at civictheatre.org. Reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of the Civic Theatre.

You probably think you don’t like Shakespeare. After all, he writes in incomprehensible old English and isn’t exactly relevant after 500 years.

You’re probably wrong. You don’t like reading Shakespeare. But Shakespeare isn’t meant to be read. Struggling through his words in English class is a chore, hearing them read and acted and lived and felt as they were meant to be is a joy that almost everyone can partake in. Spoken and combined with solid acting, Shakespeare is accessible and relevant.

Brutus (Ryan Artzberger) with the murder weapon

Julius Caesar at the Indiana Repertory Theatre is an admirable take on the classic play. The costume design is modern and updated: actors wear suits and ties instead of togas, looking like they’re on their way to Capitol Hill rather than the Roman Forum. Political posters are slapped on the wall, reminiscent of Che Guevara propaganda pieces. It’s all very current. Just in iambic pentameter.

The story is well-known: golden boy Brutus is goaded into killing popular dictator Caesar by the weasly Cassius. Protege Marc Antony turns the tide of public opinion against the assassins, and civil war ensues. With all the political intrigue, the wrangling, the bargaining, the promises of doing something vile for the good of the country ring very true in today’s contentious political climate. Combine all that with the choice of black actors to play political power couple Caesar and Calpurnia, and you have a story that could be ripped from today’s headlines.

Cassius (Rob Johansen) reveals his true loyalties

Andrew Ahren’s Mark Antony is passionate and perfect. His famous funeral oration for Caesar is genuinely moving, with his scathing, back-handed condemnation of the assassins as “honorable men” is the standout scene of the play. Rob Johansen’s whiny and high-strung Cassius is marvelous, pitting factions against each other and eventually dying a broken man.

Mark Antony (Andrew Ahrens) mourns the fallen Caesar

Unfortunately, not all of the cast is as strong. David Alan Anderson as the title character comes across as affable and likable, but not as a threat, nor as a strong leader of men. And most disappointingly, Ryan Artzberger’s Brutus fails to convince us of his torment. In the pre-show announcements, they mentioned that one actor was not feeling well that evening–perhaps that explains the lack of conviction and passion from the actor.

As I’ve come to expect at the IRT, stage design was gorgeous, especially when the city of Rome dramatically and literally falls away to reveal a stark, broad battlefield with shadows and smoke. Silken streamers became tents, dappled light became rain. Another stellar job by scenic designer Gordon Strain and light designer Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein.

Should you go see Julius Caesar? It’s an interesting play, and well worth seeing. It’s one of Shakespeare’s easiest to understand, and makes a good entry point for children or the Shakespeare-phobic. If you’re willing to listen hard and engage with the actors, you’ll walk away well satisfied.

Julius Caesar runs through November 5 at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Tickets are available at irtlive.com. The reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of IRT.

If you’ve never been to a one-man play, it’s a very different theater-going experience. It’s intimate, almost awkwardly so: there’s nowhere for either the audience or the actor to hide. No fancy sets, no costume changes, no cast mates to pick up the slack. Just a man, a stage and an audience.

And to be honest, “I Love to Eat,” part of the Going Solo festival at the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre, is a little awkward–in the best way possible. Robert Neal portrays James Beard, the larger-than-life father of American gastronomy. Before Emeril, before Julia, there was James. The play focuses on Beard in his later years, lonely, plagued by health problems and struggling to come to terms with the fame and the love he never truly found.

Neal portrays startling range, from Beard’s over-the-top bravado to a hilariously stilted impression of Beard in the first ever TV cooking show (the 1946 “I Love to Eat,” of which no footage survives) to quiet moments of despair and doubt. He even cooks on stage, the scent of onions and lemons wafting through the audience. If you sit in the front row, you might even score a sandwich. It’s an exhausting performance to watch.

The telephone becomes a second character in the play, a messenger that brings the validation Beard craves and reminds him of the world he no longer belongs to. He alternately pounces on the phone with exclamations of “goodie goodie!” and watches it with fear and loathing.

James Still’s script is mostly solid, though there’s a misguided bit that involves a cow puppet that is more confusing than edifying. The lighting is dramatic, setting the scene as Beard moves through his memories–the Oregon coast where he grew up, the TV studio where he made his fame.

“I Love to Eat” is a complex play about a man who wanted too much–too much food, too much fame, too much recognition. And it’s very much worth watching.

“I Love to Eat” runs through October 23 at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Tickets are available at irtlive.com. Reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of IRT.

Spring Awakening at the Phoenix Theatre is raw, unpolished and just a little dirty. And it’s wonderful just the way it is.

It’s hard to describe the story of this Tony Award-winning musical. The easy way out is to say it’s a story about growing up, but in reality, it’s a story about being human. It’s set in turn-of-the-century Germany, and follows a small group of teenagers as they experience love, sex and loss. It sounds like an after school special, but most after school specials don’t involve scenes where the action centers around a boy’s raucous masturbation session, or include back alley abortions. At least not the ones I watched.

The cast in this show is far greater than the sum of its parts. Most of the cast members are regular Hoosiers like you and me, studying or working as chemists and therapists by day, and becoming repressed teenagers by night. Individually, most of the voices are solid but unremarkable, though leads Carly Kincannon (Wendla) and David Terry (Melchior) rise above the rest. But when the voices blend together into haunting harmonies, the show sends a shiver down your spine.

Standout numbers include “Totally Fucked,” a song of almost orgiastic joy and reckless abandon, and the complex and gorgeous “Left Behind.” But it’s the final number, the gloriously hopeful “Song of Purple Summer” that raised this show to the sublime. The cast surrounds the audience on all sides, enclosing them in an all-encompassing bubble of sound and joy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a final number like it, and it’s worth the price of admission alone.

The acting is strong, led by the goofy but tragic Moritz (Danny Kingston). Kingston gives every fiber of his being to the character, in what must be a truly exhausting performance night after night. But every cast member is passionate, dedicated and clearly having a ball.

The staging is simple but effective as a pile of chairs become a tree and golden light signals a hay loft. One particular conceit, where cast members used their hands to rotate a dais, was distracting and unnecessary. A single guitarist stands at the back of the stage throughout the show, while the rest of the music is canned, an unfortunate economic necessity.

Ultimately, this isn’t a perfect show. The story is confusing and leaves the audience to make a lot of intuitive leaps. There were a few first night line flubs and a brief brush with a fog machine run amok. But this show has a good heart and a passionate cast who make its sorrow and joy and hope contagious. See the show. You’ll be glad you did.

Spring Awakening runs through October 23 at the Phoenix Theatre. Tickets are available at phoenixtheatre.org. The show includes adult themes including graphic sex, abortion and homosexuality and may not be suitable for children. Reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre.