A rock musical based on a 19th-century German play, starring adolescents both confused about and fairly throbbing with sexuality? It doesn’t sound like the go-to choice for a community theater production in little Venice, Florida, but Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Spring Awakening (which won multiple Tony Awards a few years ago) has a mostly youthful cast filled with such fervor--and quite a bit of talent, too--that they and the show draw you into this world of frightening and irresistible passions.
In a way, Spring Awakening, with its hard-driving score by Duncan Sheik and its once-scandalous original script by Frank Wedekind, throws in everything but the kitchen sink to present its vision of perennial adolescent angst. Yes, there will be masturbation, homosexuality, sexual abuse, teen suicide and, of course, mostly harsh or negligent adults to blame. And yes, the cast--German schoolboys in their uniforms, German schoolgirls with their braids--will sing about them all with intensity.
But the action, energetically and compellingly staged in the round by director Kelly Wynn Woodland, should draw strong responses from anyone who remembers anything about their own teen years (even if yours were milder and less rebellious). You feel for poor Wendla (a suitably fragile-seeming Caitlin Longstreet), kept so sheltered by her mother that she has no idea where babies come from. You feel for Moritz (Zachary Vance Hlavac), struggling to keep his head above water in the grim sea of Latin translations and quadratic equations that couldn’t seem more removed from his growing obsession with his sexual urges. And you may even want to cheer on Melchior (Matty Colonna), who’s ahead of his peers in his cynicism about the way the adults run things. The show’s teen anthem, Totally F***ed, is on its own enough to raise a kindred rebel spirit in anyone listening.
The songs, which range in tone from that sort of defiant shout to more melancholy ones like Blue Wind and Left Behind (touchingly performed at a graveside), are usually performed with the cast whipping microphones out of their costumes at a moment’s notice and getting their rock star vibes on. Most of the actors’ voices are up to that challenge in terms of conveying the heart and soul of the music; I only wish it were more possible to distinguish the individual lyrics, which sometimes are lost in the rush of the beat, propelled by a six-member rock band led by Jason Brenner.
But Woodland has a committed, capable cast here, even if Steven Sater’s adaptation has, perhaps inevitably, simplified the original Wedekind play. Compared to many “safer” musicals regularly staged around town, this one does definitely feel like an awakening.
The production continues through Oct. 23; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.