Performing Arts ~ Wilbury Theatre Group's Spring Awakening ~ Providence

Wilbury Theatre Group
393 Broad St.
Providence, Rhode Island

A night of firsts and lasts, this was the first time I'd seen a performance by the Wilbury Theatre Group, and the first time I've seen Spring Awakening. It was also the last play of Wilbury's season, and it went out with the proverbial bang.

The original Broadway production of Spring Awakening in 2006 won a fistful of Tony awards. The play enjoyed a Broadway revival in 2015. If you're unfamiliar, it's a musical based on a German play written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind. The action takes place in a small German town among young teens, their parents, and teachers. As you might imagine, the Awakening in question focuses on sexuality, and lack of education or even acknowledgement from the adults to the children.

It's not a lighthearted musical, and deals with tough subjects like sex, sexuality, rape, abuse, suicide and abortion.

Wendla (Katrina Z. Pavao) is about to be an aunt for the second time. She figures now's the time to find out where babies come from. Who better to ask than the "Mama who bore me"? Pavao's lov,ely singing voice makes a plaintive entreaty, but all Mama (Jennifer Pierel) can tell her is that babies come when a woman loves her husband with all her heart.
Katrina Pavao in "Spring Awakening" at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.
That doesn't stop Wendla and her friends Martha (also Pierel), Anna (Daraja Hinds) and Thea (Maggie Papa, whose work I admired in Planet Christmas at Contemporary) from developing crushes on the local boys. Even the girls' now-homeless friend, Ilse (Jessie March), who survives as a model in a nearby artists' colony, sets her sights on a local boy.

Those local boys return the girls' interest, and have the added pressure of a demanding school with sadistic teachers. The evil laughs of Daraja Hinds (Herr Knochenbruch) and Nigel Richards (Frau Grossenbustenhalter) as they decide to fail a hapless student are both chilling and hilarious.

Dajara Hinds in "Spring Awakening" at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.
Melchior (Diego Guevara) is the local heartthrob, he's intelligent, rebellious, and loyal. He's also an atheist and a progressive. To the desperate interest of his hapless best friend Moritz (Bradley Wilson), he's also got book knowledge of sex, complete with illustrations. He also has a remarkable singing voice, and pairs beautifully with Pavao in "The Word of Your Body."

Diego Guevara in "Spring Awakening" at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.
The other male students, Georg (Matthew Gorgone), Ernst (Aaron Blanck), Hanschen (Gunnar Manchester), and Otto (Nigel Richardson), spend most of their time together, fretting over schoolwork, girls, and sometimes boys. Their awakening sexual interests are often seen as distractions from their primary concern: progressing in school.

Jessie March and Brad Wilson in "Spring Awakening" at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.
I was very impressed with the talent of the cast. They do a masterful job with difficult subject matter, despite ages ranging from high school to recent college grad. They all provide percussion support for the music, using children's toys, a typewriter, stage pieces and recorders. Manchester plays a violin with purpose and poignancy. The movement and choreography is fluid.

Cast of "Spring Awakening" at The Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Maggie Hall.
The set pieces seem minimal - like a stage extension and a few large boxes, but they're so much more than that. The creative use of the space gives a 360 experience of the performers no matter where you sit in the theater.

Spring Awakening runs through June 4.


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