Phenomenal performances in Randolph Academy’s Toronto production of rock musical Spring Awakening
It’s no secret that Spring Awakening – Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s rock musical about the trials and tribulations of sexually repressed teens in 19th century Germany – is one of my favourite plays of all time. So, when I was given the opportunity to review the Randolph Academy’s production of the play – cast with actual teenagers – I was delighted.
After seeing it, I’m kind of torn about how I feel about the Randolph Academy production. On the one hand, there are several really phenomenal performances in it and I loved the multi-harmonied sound of the full cast in some of the group numbers. On the other hand there are an equal number of moments where the staging is flat (and so are the singers).
The show’s breakout star is its lead Jahlen Barnes whose silky smooth voice and impressive storytelling make him a compelling Melchior Gabor. His polished good looks and natural chemistry with Veronika Slowikowaska made him an ideal leading man, and he showed the great depth of his acting abilities through the show’s more serious moments. This was his senior showcase and he totally nailed it.
When it comes to the ladies in the production, Shaeane Jimenez gives the strongest performance as Ilse. Her ethereal voice is in a league of its own in this production and it’s hard not to be moved by the empathy and urgency she brings to the scene in which she begs Bradley Delarosbel’s Mortiz to play with her like when they were kids.
Other standout performances include Tyler Burton as the confident, sexually-charged Hanschen and Jeff Soucy, who brings his consistently solid vocals to his character Otto.
As far as the staging of the production itself goes, there are moments that worked for me and moments that didn’t.
Linda Garneau’s choreography worked best for me when it was channeling the natural world. When actors’ bodies became waves crashing on shore or a turning tide I was impressed, and I was blown away by the show’s final image of the actors’ hands becoming flower buds sprouting to resemble the beginning of Spring.
She lost me when the actors were aimlessly running around the stage or needlessly stomping or jumping. Of course, these movements were nods to Bill T. Jones’ electric choreography from the original Broadway staging, but I think that they failed to bring the same stylized imitation of teenage angst to the Randolph Theatre’s stage.
Part of the problem with this staging was that director Anne-Marie Donovan was trying to fit 26 actors on the stage at one time. Corralling that many actors into a single cohesive staged moment seemed like it was difficult in some scenes – and even worse, it seemed to me that in an effort to make the big group scenes work some of the play’s more intimate scenes were given less time and thought in their staging and ended up stagnant at best.
That being said, there is something absolutely joyous about hearing and seeing an ensemble that big sing the show’s finale “The Song of Purple Summer.” The Randolph production really captured the hopefulness and exuberance of the song’s message about the possibility for positive change in the face of the tragedies that precede it.
Subsequently, I left the Randolph Academy’s production of Spring Awakening with a sense of hope for the future. Even in an uneven show, it’s easy to see the promise of some bright new careers beginning to sprout and bloom. I’d suggest you head down to the Randolph Theatre if you want to be there to witness it.
Photo of the Spring Awakening Cast by Raph Nogal.
Erratum: Due to a mis-print in the program the review previously credited Bailey Dalton in the role of Ilse, the night the writer attended the show the role was played by Shaeane Jimenez, the review has been edited to reflect this fact.