Monday, October 12, 2009

Alas, Atlantis, Spring fell short

I had high expectations for Atlantis Productions' staging of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening because 1) it had won 8 Tony Awards in 2007; 2) the music is written by Duncan Sheik, and I've always loved Duncan Sheik; and 3) Atlantis had impressed me with their production of Hairspray last year. And perhaps because of my high expectations, Spring Awakening, sadly, failed to wow me.

I suspect that, more than anything, it was the lackluster acting from the cast of relative unknowns that diminished my enjoyment of the show. The material was compelling enough: set in Germany in 1891, the story revolves around a group of teenagers discovering their burgeoning sexuality, and coming to terms with it within the repressive and oppressive society they're growing up in. However, the seething passions and roiling emotions weren't conveyed convincingly enough by the young (and not-so-young) actors, led by Joaquin Valdes playing the idealistic intellectual Melchior, and Kelly Lati in the role of sweet, innocent Wendla. The effort was there, to be sure, but the best acting should always come off as effortless, and throughout the play I just saw a lot of ... trying. The
singing was good, but not great, and only Valdes' voice showed any potential for power in terms of both range and feeling. Moreover, the execution of the choreography was disappointing, lacking fluidity and grace, and served to distract from rather than contribute to the overall performance.

Duncan Sheik's score was catchy, but I found Steven Sater's lyrics wanting for poetry, and not really very memorable (
to illustrate: two days later I still have the song "Totally Fucked" stuck in my head, but only the part that goes, "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah"). I did like "The Word of Your Body" and "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind", but the latter was ruined for me by the poor enunciation of Nicco Manalo, who played Moritz. Throughout the play, I could hardly understand what he was saying/singing half the time. Pity, because Moritz was one of the most engaging characters, and pity too because Bea Garcia, who played Ilse, did an excellent job singing "Blue Wind". Garcia also held her own in "The Dark I Know Well" alongside bossa nova singer Sitti, who was surprisingly nondescript as Martha. Again, I had expected to be blown away by raw emotion during that particular number, as it is a song brimming with anger, fear, and self-loathing, but I was underwhelmed instead.

I now wonder if I would gain a better appreciation of Spring Awakening given a different production or at least a different cast. I get the sense that the musical itself is actually much better than what I had seen, so this time around I think Atlantis let me down. That said, I still give them credit for putting on an entertaining show, and for bringing quality Broadway musicals to local audiences. I look forward to the next one.


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