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'Spring Awakening' presents the dark side of adolescence

“Spring Awakening,” the Tony Award Winning musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, is more than edgy. Based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play whose 1906 performance subtitle was “A Children’s Tragedy,” it is a dark, beautifully written and sung rock musical that disturbingly presents the emotions and problems facing adolescents.

Their hormones are changing. However their authority figures are worse than of no help because some of them cause or exacerbate their teenagers’ problems.

Back in Wedekind’s Germany and indeed, elsewhere in the world, sex education, abortion, child abuse, suicide, incest and homosexuality were not discussed. More than a century later those subjects still don’t receive as much open discussion as they deserve in many towns across the world. But their reality are an integral part of “Spring Awakening.”

Directed and choreographed by Marriott Lead Artistic Director Aaron Thielen, “Spring Awakening” is in drastic contrast to such feel-good Marriott musicals as “October Sky” which premiered in 2015 or “Sister Act” which will run Feb. 10-April 3, 2016. Those shows are part of Marriott’s regular season.

Instead, Thielen has brought out “Spring Awakening” for a short run, Jan 15 though Jan. 31, 2016 as a non-subscription offering.

The music, singing, acting and staging are superb...

Although it has a controversial history that includes censorship, the show appeared on Broadway from December 2006 to January 2009 where it garnered eight Tony Awards in 2007 that included Best Musical.

At Marriott, the show is cleverly presented with a thrust stage rather than as theater-in-the-round. The action takes place within a metaphorically limited space designed to represent the restrictive, sexually repressive attitudes of Wedekin’s late 1800s Germany. Under the music direction of Ryan T. Nelson and conducted by keyboardist Patti Garwood, the band sounds amazing as it plays on both sides of the thrust stage. In addition, the singers use hand-held mics as they would if singing with a rock band.

For this show, Thielen brought back several young performers from “October Sky.” Patric Rooney who played Roy Lee stars as Melchior, a bright boy who doesn’t believe in anything but has sex with Wendla, the female lead played by Eliza Palasz. She was Dorothy in October Sky and Margaret Snow in Lyric Opera’s “Carousel.”

Subscribers may remember Ben Barker as O’Dell, in October Sky. He is Moritz who doesn’t meet parents’ expectations, is not respected by others but is befriended by Melchior. Other “October Sky” actors are Liam Quealy (Georg) who was Jim Hickman and Nate Lewllyn (Otto) who was Homer Hickman.

In the adult roles are Marriott and Chicago theater favorites Hollis Resnik as a mother, schoolmarm and piano teacher and Kevin Gudahl as a stern German teacher and parent.