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By Shane M. Dallmann

“How will we know what to do if our parents won’t tell us?”

Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik updated a controversial 19th century play by Wedekind into an equally controversial Tony award-winning musical, now freshly produced by the Western Stage. While SPRING AWAKENING retains the original time and place setting of Germany, the theme of sexual awareness in school-age adolescents unchecked by parental or educational preparation now boasts a contemporary rock-and-roll musical presence with attitude to match.

Young Melchior (Adam Schroeder), though admired for his intellectual potential by his instructors, is nevertheless chastised for his habit of questioning what he’s taught and for what he’s learned outside the classroom, be it the study of ancient languages or the gamut of human sexuality. His private counsel eventually has a profound effect on two close acquaintances: his “misfit” friend Moritz (Christopher Marcos), marked for failure as an “undesirable” by his schoolmasters, and on young Wendla (Sydney Duncheon), who opens the play still clueless as to why it’s suddenly inappropriate for her to wear a kindergarten-style dress–and why her mother is still trying to tell her the one about the stork. Needless to say, SPRING AWAKENING doesn’t play “stork”–it makes its mark with pure, unadulterated frankness. Ironically, the show that urges parents to talk candidly to their children is itself age-restricted for that very reason: it certainly isn’t a children’s show (the language is strong, the sex is on the thin line of separation from simulation, and there’s brief but non-gratuitous nudity involved), but it’s something to consider discussing with one’s own mature adolescent

Melchior and Wendla’s respective classmates are also facing various trials and discoveries that come with their age; among other subplots, we have the unsuccessful attempt of Martha (Jennifer Gregoire) to hide her own dark family trauma; and then we have Hanschen (Jorge Torrez) and Ernst (Nico Abiera)–while their same-sex epiphany may have been considered a theme as “taboo” as the rest, it’s interesting to note that theirs is pretty much the only relationship in this story that doesn’t suffer violent, painful consequences.

And indeed, while the early portion of SPRING AWAKENING contains many laugh-out-loud moments of shock and humor, one knows early on that the mood can’t possibly last–the only thing that saves the audience from an experience of overwhelming depression is the wise insertion of an explosive release of anger and frustration in the second act in the form of a fist-pumping number entitled… well… you’ll know it when you hear it. (And no, I’m not playing “stork” myself and trying to shield you from the facts of life–I just think this entire sequence plays much better when you don’t know what to expect ahead of time.)

Attempting to control the young cast throughout the production are John G. Bridges in all of the adult male roles (from strict fathers through stern schoolmasters) and Susanne Burns in the adult female roles (timid mother, conniving headmistress–and a buxom piano teacher in one of the funniest early highlights). And this being a full-fledged musical, the principals are greatly complemented by a fine ensemble (director John Patrick Selover keeps the young ladies traditional in appearance, but allows colorful punk hairdos to highlight the assortment of otherwise conservatively-dressed young men… while of course, any and all of the above can whip out a microphone and rock it at a moment’s notice courtesy of musical director Don Dally and his band). SPRING AWAKENING boasts an expertly-chosen cast guaranteed to affect the viewer deeply.

And does the young lady playing Martha’s friend Anna look familiar? She certainly should–that’s none other than Allyson “Puddles” Bojorques–she was the devastating Shilo Wallace in the Paper Wing’s production of REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, she was Salinas High’s answer to Elizabeth Taylor in NIGHT WATCH, and she’s the delightfully dangerous Carlotta Nightshade, foil to all of your friends at REMO D.’S MANOR OF MAYHEM; now bringing her unique presence and beautiful voice to another fine, challenging production.

SPRING AWAKENING will continue to play Fridays through Sundays through September 29th. Please visit http://www.westernstage.com for more information.