Spring Awakening and 20 Feet
If anyone tells you “Spring Awakening” is a teen age “Rent,” do not believe it. Admittedly, both Tony Award-winning musicals share skepticism about the wisdom of their elders and a spirit of solidarity between peers. Granted, the 1891 Frank Wedekind play-based show—as with ‘Rent”—possesses a Duncan Sheik (music) –Steven Sater (lyrics) score that often rocks, especially in fierce numbers like “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked.” Still, ”Spring Awakening” champions the desire of adolescent males and females to freely live their lives and determine their futures with a tuneful bravado all its own. Out Gloucester Stage artistic director Eric Engel has tapped into the musical’s singular feistiness with an unrelenting tenacity that makes it better than the recent good national tour and as memorable as the original edition that compelling shook up Broadway.
The young actors and actresses at Gloucester Stage—individually as well as in combination and total ensemble—are so persuasive that this critic wishes that he could mention all of them. Phil Tayler is very affecting as individualist Melchior, both as he courts Wendla—played with moving vulnerability by Melody Madarasz—and struggles to protect best friend Moritz, who is cruelly bullied by a variety of adults. The first act-closing intimacy between them is as highly sexual as its counterpart on Broadway. Ross Mumford is a standout as Moritz, sublimely moving from pathos to rage and despair in a heart-wrenching performance that, to borrow from the musical, will ’bruise’ you with its power.
Under Engel’s sensitive direction, a same sex rendezvous proves as romantically convincing as Melchior and Wendla’s, with sweet vocals from Jordan Ford as gay Hanschen and Chris Reynalds as ostensibly bi-sexual (or possibly closeted) Ernest on a reprise of the poetic number “The Word of Your Body.” Amelia Broome makes the female adults vividly disconcerting-especially Melchior’s criminally politically correct mother Frau Gabor and a seducing piano teacher. Paul Farwell does equally well with both the powerful and powerless males-most notably as Moritz’s father, whose moments of grief will stun you.
Jodi Leigh Allen’s crackling choreography captures the ache and the anger of the students, with all of the boys dancing on and around chairs in “The Bitch of Living” and the full company of young people romping out their resentments on “Totally Fucked.” Musical director Catherine Stornetta wisely conducts the rock-folk score with understatement, and the mike-less cast bring remarkable clarity to the artful lyrics, most notably the rich imagery of “The Song of Purple Summer.”
Flower-bearing male and female adolescents express a full repertoire of feelings during the arresting closing Coda. Expect that kind of exquisite epiphany from Gloucester Stage Company’s soaring “Spring Awakening.”
Spring Awakening, Gloucester Stage Company, through July 14. 978-281-4099 or gloucesterstage.com.
What do Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill and David Lesley all have in common? The likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting and Stevie Wonder are quick to recognize the under-appreciated but all-important contribution of these gifted background singers and others of their caliber to rock ‘n’ roll and r & b in Morgan Neville’s labor of love documentary “20 Feet to Stardom.” Neville’s informative tribute includes vivid footage of such session singers with legends as diverse as Lou Reed, David Bowie, Elton John, Luther Vandross, Ray Charles and Bette Midler.
There are revealing sections about the importance of gospel singing to many background singers in childhood and the challenges and obstacles that have kept many from reaching stardom. Look for terrific footage of Clayton in the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Rock Hall of Famer Love on the Letterman Show, songbird Fischer shimmering in her high register and Hill lamenting the untimely loss of Michael Jackson with whom she was destined to tour. Is there anything missing? Actually, fewer repeated observations would allow for even more footage of glorious singing in this 90-minute celebration.
“20 Feet from Stardom, “West Newton Cinema. 617-964-8074.westnewtoncinema.com