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An Emotionally and Sonically Rich Production

German playwright Frank Wedekind penned the coming-of-age tragedy “Spring Awakening” between 1890 and 1891, but the play was deemed so scandalous, no one dared stage it until 1906. Today, the story of adolescents in an oppressive, provincial German town isn’t nearly as shocking, at least not for the same reasons. A plot that focuses on teenagers exploring their sexuality and questioning authority is no longer grounds for white-knuckled pearl-clutching. What shocks in today’s Spring Awakening is the gasp-inducing cluelessness and cruelty of the adults charged with shepherding the story’s fragile students toward adulthood.

In Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater’s (book and lyrics) powerful musicalization of Wedekind’s drama, adolescents take that journey on a knife-edge of peril. Sex can literally lead to death in the story’s early 20th century setting. Academic failure is a cause for shame deep enough to kill you. As for the heady sense of joy and wonderment that mark a young person’s passage from child to adult – that’s something to be crushed.

In shoehorning a three-week run of the rock musical into a season already packed with nine full productions, the Marriott is taking a sizable risk with Spring Awakening. The show’s profanity, eroticism and rock-and-roll tinged score aren’t generally selling points among the theater’s more conservative subscription demographic. But as directed by Marriott Lead Artistic Director Aaron Thielen, Spring Awakening is an explosion of youthful passion that should provide a rush for all demographics. Sex, rage, ecstasy, despair and awestruck wonder aren’t the sole purview of the young, and Spring Awakening bursts with all of these, from the weeping, haunting strings that open the show to the soaring roar of the final anthem...

The plot centers on Wendla (Eliza Palasz), a bright, curious young woman whose knowledge of how babies are created begins and ends with the stork. Her pleas to her mother (Hollis Resnik, who plays all the adult female roles) for more information are met with purse-lipped obfuscation and vague stammerings about the power of “love.” Wendla’s male counterpart is Melchior (Patrick Rooney). But where Wendla lives in frustrated ignorance, Melchior’s voracious reading habits have led him to a physician’s understanding of how bodies work and a boundless intellectual curiosity that incites the harrowing ire of his teacher (Kevin Gudahl, who plays all the adult male roles). The story also focuses on the heartbreaking story of Moritz (Ben Barker), a boy dismissed by his teachers as stupid and worthless, and doomed to fail.’’

The best part of the Marriott’s staging is delivered by the seven-person orchestra, conducted to ravishing heights by Patti Garwood. Sheik’s score is enthralling. There’s bitterness and defiance in the opening “Mama Who Bore Me,” luscious, aching romance in the strains of “The Word of Your Body” and rising, unspeakable terror in “The Dark I Know Well.” ...when the cast sings at full ensemble force, the vocals (under the music direction of Ryan T. Nelson) matche those gloriously evocative strains from the orchestra. If you’re not nodding in percussive agreement to the universal experience so magnificently conveyed in “Totally F***ed,” you simply aren’t paying attention. Barker goes for the jugular in “Don’t Do Sadness” and “Bitch of a Living,” and makes both blaze with resonant power. And with “The Song of Purple Summer,” the ensemble creates a feeling that’s reminiscent of a trust fall: You just want to close your eyes and surrender to the warmth and power of the sound.

...Marriott’s Spring Awakening” is an emotionally and sonically rich production. The notion that they might continue adding similarly risky shows to their line-up is cause for applause and cause for great anticipation. Here’s hoping they make a habit of this sort of programming!