Since winning the 2007 Tony Award for best musical, “Spring Awakening” has only grown more excruciatingly relevant. Book bans in schools censoring anything that might shed light on the variety of human sexual expression and experience are gaining momentum.
Attacks on reproductive freedom and care have made the lives of young people all the more dangerous. In the show, a back-alley abortion leads to tragedy, and the scene, which once seemed to belong to the pages of history, could now be a headline on social media.
Progress isn’t linear, not with the forces of conservative morality hard at work to turn back the clock. Still, it was startling to encounter “Spring Awakening” at East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater and think that our society has moved closer to the benighted social world of a show set in late 19th century provincial Germany.
Derived from Frank Wedekind’s play of the same title, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s “Spring Awakening” is part concert, part drama, part secular mass. To the moody strains of Sheik’s alt-rock score, the vise of adolescence is captured in a story about pubescent youths rebelling against the warping will of adult hypocrisy and repression.
Former EWP artistic director Tim Dang returns to direct a revival that Snehal Desai had programmed and was slated to direct before he was appointed Center Theatre Group’s new artistic leader. Dang uses the occasion as an opportunity to showcase a new generation of talent on the theater’s mainstage.
Inexperience is sometimes in evidence in a cast that too often translates intensity into over-emphatic acting. The staging lacks stylistic control. (Visually, the production seems scattershot.) The adults, played by Daniel Blinkoff and Tamlyn Tomita, work in caricatures that in Blinkoff’s case seem like stock villains from musty melodrama.
But the revolutionary force of nature coursing through teenage bodies that refuse to be suppressed is powerfully brought to life. Dang and his cast don’t pull any punches. Prudes are going to be prudish, so no point in trying to appease them in a show that’s all about the havoc that’s wrought when human biology is denied by moralistic zealots.
Two performances leave lasting impressions: Mia Sempertegui as Wendla and Thomas Winter as Melchior, the young lovers whose tragedy could have been averted if only grownups wouldn’t enforce ignorance over common-sense enlightenment.
The haunting story of this innocent couple fills the stage with a sacrificial gravity that feels disturbingly relevant to 2023 America.
Where: East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 19
Tickets: $39 – $69
Contact: (213) 625-7000 or eastwestplayers.org
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
This story originally appeared on LATimes