In the teenage wasteland that is Spring Awakening, they sport mohawks, strut around in suits, fantasise about their piano teacher, and pull out microphones from unexpected places to belt out rock songs. Sounds like an episode of Glee – if not for the fact that it’s not Sue Sylvester they’re dealing with but the full weight of a heartless world that comes ruthlessly bearing down on them.
Presented by Pangdemonium Productions and directed by Tracie Pang, this Noughties rock musical treatment of Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1890s play about the troubled lives of teenagers in rural Germany is an ingenuous strategy concocted by the writer-composer tagteam of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik.
After all, when beset by, among others, sexual and physical abuse, raging hormones, and an attraction to someone of the same sex, what better release than to sing about one’s woes?
At the core is the intelligent, Goethe-reading atheist heartthrob Melchior (Nathan Hartono) and his childhood friends, the innocent Wendla (Julia Abueva) and the socially inept Moritz (Eden Ang), all of whom grapple with their own personal issues. But such is the scope of Spring Awakening that you’re equally confronted with the rest of the ensemble’s own problems. In the cramped confines of the Drama Centre stage dominated by the imposing central church-like set of Eucien Chia, the stories and rush of emotions build up into a huge bubble of adolescent angst at the brink of bursting.
Here is youth in all its glorious contradictions – its fragile innocence and brave naivete, its awkward silliness and tragic follies. And as you’re swept up in it, it makes sure you’re firmly experiencing it from the side of the young ones. Authority figures in the form of teachers and parents become one and the same (literally, courtesy of Adrian Pang and Candice De Rozario juggling all the adult roles); the gorgeous melodies of singer-songwriter Sheik has none of the typical technicolour brightness of “musical” songs and instead are introspective tunes for “emo” moments with one’s iPod (or nowadays, iPhone); the restless nature of the characters interpreted as jerky, lively choreography courtesy of Bill Calhoun.
Pangdemonium’s decision to cast relative greenhorns is a statement in itself – a belief in the abilities of the next generation of actors. And the whole group does them proud. First-time actor (and vet singer) Hartono and powerhouse singer Abueva have palpable chemistry; Erwin Shah and Rayve Tay reveal themselves as a natural singer and comedic actor, respectively; and Ang’s turn as the hapless Moritz tugs at heartstrings.
Spring Awakening is indeed a tragic coming of age tale of teenagers, but really, it transcends that. In it you’ll recognise the constant battle between conservatism and liberalism, between old ideas and new, between a society that tries to keep appearances and a restless youth that threatens to topple the establishment – one rock song at a time. Don’t miss it.
6 February 2012