Brilliant design and evocative lighting deliver eye-catching visual impact that goes largely unmatched by overall emotional impact in Round House Theatre’s slow-burning production of Spring Awakening (★★½☆☆). In concept, the rock musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s truly disruptive 1891 play seethes with the savage youthful energy of sexually curious teens, set to Duncan Sheik’s music and Steven Sater’s book and lyrics.
Sparks of that electricity, tinged with liberation and tragedy, charge through this cast and staging, and up and down the scenery via LED light-strips. Yet, despite Adam Rigg’s fantastic-looking scenic design, and the story-enhancing effects of Colin K. Bills’ lighting, the scintillating choreography by Paul McGill, a few standout performances, and the hottest boy-on-boy kiss I’ve seen onstage in many a season, Alan Paul’s busy production doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts.
And there are many moving parts — from furniture and trapdoors to concentric revolving stages — the mechanics of which too often steal focus from the game performers portraying these 19th-century schoolchildren “in bloom.” Percolating with pubescence, smitten Melchior (Evan Daves) and Wendla (Cristina Sastre), deeply unsettled Moritz (Sean Watkinson), and their schoolmates express a timeless adolescent preoccupation with the carnal aspects of their developing bodies and minds. They sing and dance through their desires and frustrations effectively in a moving “Touch Me,” featuring a lovely solo by Carson Collins as Georg, and hit the target of rebellious resignation with “Totally Fucked.”
But the musical highs are more an exception than the rule, due to tepid arrangements, much less assured singing than acting, and a seven-piece live band that, wherever they’re stationed and however they’re amplified, don’t sound live enough. Certainly their sound doesn’t convey what Tonya Beckman’s comically outraged schoolmistress calls “the creeping sensuality of these liberal-minded times.”
For that, look to the free-spirited choreography, or Cristina Sastre’s well-acted Wendla. Look to Collins’ turn as hot-for-teacher Georg, or the magnetic performance of Christian Montgomery as boy-crazy Hanschen. Seen recently as Seymour in Constellation’s Little Shop of Horrors, Montgomery seduces both James Mernin’s Ernst and the audience, wielding a healthy supply of sensuality and a palpable commitment to what the character discovers singing about “the words of his body” — his surging power to be utterly himself.
Spring Awakening runs through Feb. 23 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, Md. Tickets are $56 to $78. Call 240-644-1100, or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
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