Spring Awakening at the Phoenix Theatre: Raw, Dirty and Wonderful

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.