Review by Anina-Marie Van Wyk
Millennial Productions’ staging of Spring Awakening is nothing short of a theatrical masterpiece. The combination of Steven Sater’s powerful book and lyrics and Duncan Shiek’s haunting score, along with the sensitive and expert direction, makes for a truly unforgettable experience. The show’s portrayal of a group of teens in 19th century Germany struggling with sexuality and self-discovery is raw and relatable.
As Melchior Gabor, Damien Quick is the perfect casting choice. The role demands an actor with immense range and depth, and Quick delivers this in spades. His voice soars in the haunting high notes and resonates in the powerful low notes, bringing the character to life with impressive nuance. His renditions of “Left Behind” and “Those You’ve Known” are not to be missed and the audience can’t help but feel the sincerity and authenticity he brings to the role. He makes Melchior’s inner turmoil palpable and the audience feels for him as he navigates his soft, sensitive side and his darker, more violent inclinations. Quick’s portrayal of Melchior is a tour-de-force, making him one of the standout performances of the production.
Nykita O-Keefe’s portrayal of Wendla Bergmann is nothing short of mesmerizing. She effortlessly guides the audience through a journey from innocence to enlightenment, with her skillful acting and emotive range. Her voice is gorgeous, captivating the audience with every note she hits, and her chemistry with Quick’s Melchior sets the stage for a moving and authentic love story. O-Keefe’s portrayal of Wendla is relatable and real, making it easy for the audience to see themselves in her. A standout moment is her rendition of “Whispering,” which showcases her vocal prowess and leaves the audience speechless as she soars through the song.
In a very refreshing turn of events, Millennial Productions makes the deliberate choice to create a gender diverse cast. This includes the casting of many queer and gender diverse performers and the choice not to constrain characters to their traditional genders. This brings an unprecedented level of depth and nuance to the characters. This works brilliantly and adds layers of complexity to the characters.
AJ Betts as Moritz Stiefel is without a doubt the star of this show. An innovative casting choice that pays off and brings a new, refreshing perspective to the traditionally male role of Moritz. Betts’ identifies as they/she and this adds depth and layers to the already complex character, making it the most striking performance in the show. Betts is nothing short of a sensation on stage, their masterful acting and singing leaves the audience in awe. The slight changes made to the music to fit Betts’ vocal range is a stroke of genius, every note they sing is perfectly executed. Their raw, genuine emotions make the audience feel each poignant moment intensely. This performance is a true masterpiece, Betts is in top form and their portrayal of Moritz is a must-see. Betts’ rendition of “Don’t Do Sadness” is a standout song of the show, it showcases their vocal prowess and range and leaves the audience speechless. Bravo!
Rae Rose’s portrayal of Ilse Neumann is spectacular. Identifying as they/she/he, Rose brings a unique and refreshing perspective to the character, elevating it to new heights. With powerhouse vocals, hitting every note with ease, Rose’s performance is mesmerizing. Ilse’s story can be a little more subtle than others, but Rose navigates it with skill, ease, and sensitivity, making it easy for the audience to connect with the character. Their take on Ilse is authentic, and their acting instincts are spot-on. Rose’s vocals are especially noteworthy in “The Dark I Know Well”, “Blue Wind”, and “The Song of Purple Summer”, and they are without a doubt one of the strongest vocalists in this production.
Liv Hutchins as Martha Bessell leaves a lasting impression with her gut-wrenching portrayal. Her raw and authentic performance is one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the show. Her vocal prowess in “The Dark I Know Well” adds layers to her portrayal and amplifies the emotional impact.
On the other hand, William Chen as Hanschen Rilow adds some levity to the production with his comedic timing and ability to bring out the lighter moments. His portrayal of a queer character is authentic and genuine. The chemistry between Chen and Chris Drummond’s Ernst is electric, making the audience root for their relationship.
Chris Drummond as Ernst Robel is an excellent addition to the cast, captivating audiences with his stage presence. With a magnetic energy, his performances are not to be missed. Jackson Hughesman as Otto Lammermeier hits the stage with incredible vocal range and natural talent. It’s easy to see why he’s the understudy for Moritz Stiefel.
Kaitlin Evans as Georg Zirschnitz is a trailblazer, breaking boundaries as another queer performer who identifies as they/them taking on one of the traditionally male roles. With a skillful and powerful voice, they shine in every performance.
Kate Coleman and Kristin Sparks as Thea and Anna respectively add beautiful harmonies to the songs and deliver emotionally charged performances. Emily Rohweder and Caleb Holman as adult woman and adult man respectively, expertly navigate the transitions through different characters with ease and bring an authentic sense of detachment and disconnection to the adult characters.
Elliot Daniel Gough, Ella Jackson, Ally Hickey, Mikeal Bobart and Aidan Cobb form the ensemble and they are a powerhouse of talent, bringing energy and passion to the stage. These actors also serve as the understudies for Melchior, Wendla, Ilse, Martha and Otto respectively and you won’t want to miss the chance to see them take on these iconic roles on Thursday 26 January, it’s sure to be a thrilling experience.
The direction and choreography of this production are masterfully executed. Directed by Taylor Andrews with assistance from Christopher Batkin, this show is characterized by beautiful and sensitive directing choices, focusing on the inner world and motivations of the characters. Each choice is clearly deliberate and allows the actors to give their best performances.
The choreography by Lauren Bensted is especially noteworthy, as she adds subtle elements of contemporary dance styles to assist actors. This is especially evident in the roles of Melchior, Mortiz, Wendla, Ilse and Martha, and helps them to express their inner emotions through movement. This adds depth and richness to the performances.
The Musical Direction by Eliza De Castro is simply outstanding. Every note, every song is delivered with perfection, and the careful use of dynamics takes the audience on a journey. “The Song of Purple Summer” is a standout, with excellent dynamics and harmonies that work in tandem to create something truly spectacular. Overall, De Castro’s musical direction is top-notch and adds to the immense impact of the production.
The lighting and sound design in this production is nothing short of spectacular. Perry Sanders and Lane Agostinelli bring the play to life, with lighting and sound that perfectly capture the mood and meaning of the performances. The lighting, in particular, is mesmerizing, with the use of silhouettes in Melchior & Wendla’s intimate scene leaving a lasting impression. The sound design is equally impressive, immersing the audience in the world of the play.
The costumes and set design by Taylor Andrews are stunning. The costumes are masterfully crafted, perfectly capturing the characters and evoking the time period. The set design is breathtaking, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere. The use of natural elements such as leaves and a tree that lights up during Melchior and Wendla’s intimacy scene adds a touch of magic and wonder to the production. Together, these elements work in harmony to create a truly unforgettable experience that draws the audience in.
Millennial Productions’ Spring Awakening is a tour-de-force of a production, featuring electrifying performances, music that will leave you breathless, and directing choices that are nothing short of masterful. The cast is a group of incredibly talented actors, each bringing their own unique perspective and skill to their roles, making for an unforgettable experience. The musical direction is outstanding, taking the audience on an emotional journey that will stay with them long after the curtain falls.
Millennial Productions should be commended for their fearless approach to storytelling and for their commitment to gender representation, which is reflected in their casting choices. This production is a must-see for anyone who appreciates musical theatre and outstanding performances. Bravo!
Spring Awakening will play at The Ron Hurley Theatre until 29 January. Tickets are on sale here, but get in quick!