Spring Awakening Blossoms in the Black Box at Salem State University

By Chris Ricci and Joey Phoenix 

In the past few decades, the stage has seen a sudden spike in revival performances while, at the same time, neglected some of the more contemporary pieces. Nearly ten years ago, a musical took Broadway by storm, winning eight Tony awards and two Grammy awards. “Spring Awakening” spawned a theatrical renaissance that not only focused on revamping old material, but also treading a risky and controversial line about real world issues that some have been too scared to discuss otherwise.

Based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, Spring Awakening: the Chilldren’s Tragedy, “Spring Awakening,” by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, takes the tropes of adolescent self-discovery in classic literature and combines it with the blistering clichés of rock music including (but not limited to) sex, drugs, and literal rock & roll. The story follows a handful of German youth coming to terms with their own physical and emotional development, and learning to cope with new adult experiences for which they are hardly prepared. The story doesn’t shy away from its mature subject matter, which includes sexual abuse and suicide, and openly discusses topics which could easily trigger discomfort in some viewers.

Because of the things mentioned above, it’s rather difficult to assess the source material without some form of bias. “Spring Awakening,” though receiving an incredible amount of accolades when it was first released, was met with a fair share of polarizing detractors. This being said, the best way to judge any play with such a storied history is to look at the way it was produced as opposed to the way it was written. Each large-scale production of “Spring Awakening” has been vastly different from the last; some featuring a wide range of actors and props with over-the-top costumes, while others were a bit more stoic and minimal. The history of this play definitely left many audience members eagerly curious as to what it was they would be witnessing at the Callan Theatre’s Black Box, and it’s safe to say that few left disappointed with the way “Spring Awakening” was brought to life.

There are many perks when it comes to putting on a production in such a small space, especially if the cast is of high calibre. During the evening, not a single corner of the stage was neglected, and instances with a multitude of action and singing didn’t feel overwhelming. The minimal room on the stage was rivaled by the minimal usage of props, which the actors worked with with flying colors. Imagery of fields and rivers were conveyed to the audience with little to no point of reference, and the actors played in this landscape with relative ease. There were some slight mechanical hiccups that would have marred any other performance, but were met strongly by the actors. The small space didn’t really require microphone usage, so when it was implemented, the sound got a tad bit overwhelming. Hearing one’s regular singing voice as well as the amplified version seemed to initially distract some of the actors, but midway through the first act, it seemed that everyone was on the same page and could balance it rather well.

Despite the challenges associated with staging such an interpretive production, the actors themselves did an exemplary job in bringing the story to life. Their enthusiasm for the material at hand quickened the energy in the black box, and effectively pulled the audience into the narrative. Although the quality of the sound in some ways detracted from the haunting melodies of the musical, the acting itself never faltered.

Salem State University's production of “Spring Awakening,” directed by William Cunningham, will continue this week, with 7:30 showtimes on Thursday the 23 through Saturday the 25, and a final matinée on April 26th at 2 PM.

Tickets: $15 general/$10 non-Salem State students and seniors. Salem State students admitted free with ID.

Purchase online or at: 978.542.6365.