Thursday, November 10, 2011

Talent springs forth in powerful 'awakening'

For its annual musical, M&D Productions has mounted an ambitious and powerful production of “Spring Awakening,” the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical of sexual discovery set in 19th century Germany.

“Spring Awakening,” which opened Thursday, Nov. 10, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is playing Thursday through Sunday for the next two weeks, is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 1892 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind. Featuring music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the dialogue is more or less to period, but the lyrics are contemporary.

The show is like a greatest hits of misery: child abuse, rape, abortion and suicide. This isn’t a light, happy musical, but it isn’t a total downer either. It explores these issues in a serious and direct way, but also features rousing musical numbers and a sly sense of humor.

There’s a large cast that mixes community actors with three professional actors that M&D brought in specifically for this show. The most notable of the three pros is Jason Cabral in the lead role of Melchior, a bright student who is seen as dangerous for being a free thinker.

Cabral, who also was assistant director, has a strong, commanding voice and an engaging stage presence. He is good in both dramatic and comic moments. Most importantly, you never see him acting. It feels natural. His standout moment, backed by the ensemble, is “Totally “F---ed,” the show's funniest, most dynamic number.

It is a testament to the level of talent that we have in this community and to Ken Martin’s abilities as a director, that the professionals, who also include Christopher Baron and Janet A. McWilliams in supporting roles, don’t stand out like sore thumbs. The cast blends together seamlessly. The pros don’t come down to a lesser level, everyone comes up to their level ability.

Molly Paven is the naive Wendla, who embraces her sexual desires toward Melchior not knowing the consequences thanks to a lovely bit of misinformation about child birth from her mother (Christina Howe). Paven is every bit Cabral’s equal in terms of vocal and acting ability. Paven, seemingly with little effort, brings across Wendla’s innocence, confusion, frustration and excitement.

Paven and Cabral have a palpable chemistry and share numerous powerful scenes together most notably one in which Wendla asks Melchior to beat her with a rod as she wants to be able to relate to her abused friend Martha (Amy Nicole Smullen). The act unleashes their sexual desires.

Chris Madura as Moritz is the third lead. Mortiz is troubled by his developing sexual urges which plague his dreams. As a student, he struggles to make the grade and is often the target of abuse and humiliation from his teachers (Bill Knolla and Karen Gustafson).

Madura beautifully brings across the tremendous pressure Mortiz is under and the depression he is struggling with. When he confronts his father (Kevin O’Neil) about his struggles at school only to be ridiculed we feel his pain. Madura shines brightest sporting a fauxhawk and venting his frustration on the punk-ish “Don't Do Sadness.”

Outside of the three leads, everyone gets at least one moment to shine. Smullen takes lead on the heartbreaking “The Dark I Know Well" which explores her character’s abuse. Jessica Pappalardo as Ilse, who tentatively attempts to be more than a friend to Mortiz, showcases her beautiful voice on the haunting “Blue Wind” and leads the cast in the show’s final number "The Song of Purple Summer" Baron and Ezra T. Alves share a funny and tender scene of budding, forbidden love.

This is complex and big show and so everyone deserves their credit. The actors are backed up by a solid live band that includes Cella Mariani, Eric Hudson, Eric Jordan, Thaddeus Pinkerton and Rafe Matregrano, who also provided musical direction. Once again Deborah Jasien has provided a beautiful set with an amazing tree as the center piece. Johnathan Pina provides the show with its lively choreography. Lighting design by Martin and Mark Delancy and sound design Pinkerton are both effective.

For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.

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