The Lower Ossington Theatre presents the rock musical Spring Awakening in Toronto
The current Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT) production of Spring Awakening draws heavily from the original Broadway production with varying amounts of success. The production adequately recreates most of the shows iconic moments to the delight of the audience, but its most outstanding moments are those where the production takes risks and freshly re-imagines the show. Anyone who missed the original Broadway production and the National tours but still loves Spring Awakening– like me – will leave the LOT satisfied with their experience with the show.
For me, this show is all about staging and choreography. Those elements, more than any others, are what gives the show its high-energy, punk-rock feel. For many superfans of Spring Awakening, the 2007 Tony performance of “Mama Who Bore Me” and “The Bitch of Living” was our first introduction to the show. From the moment I first saw that performance, I was captivated by the edgy, sexy, rebellious chair dancing and the show’s guitar driven rock-and-roll score. So it was really nice to see that choreography transposed into the LOT’s production, even though it doesn’t ever feel as spontaneous as it does in the original Broadway production. When choreographer Adam Sergison strays from the source material is when the production really shines, though. The lyric near-ballet danced by the girls in the middle of “Touch Me” is so unbelievably gorgeous and I kind of wish that I had got to see more choreography like that in this production.
Other great staging moments include having the entire cast peer around the brick wall set during “The Word of Your Body” where Wendla and Melchior also get some fascinating hand choreography that makes the best use of hand-holding I’ve seen on stage and the funeral scene in “Left Behind.”
Musically, the show is also a good mix of homage to the original production and imaginative reinterpretation. The highlight of the night has to be Victoria Scully as Ilse, who sings her parts of the score like a folk-rock goddess. We first see her when she duets on the haunting, heartbreaking “The Dark I Know Well” with Tiera Watts who plays Martha. Scully’s belting her face off in the final moments of the song is enough to give you goosebumps if you didn’t already have them from the moment she runs to defend and comfort Watts as they share their stories of sexual abuse. Tears are welling up in my eyes just thinking of that moment, it is so poignant.
Not to outdo herself, Scully beautifully displays her heartfelt desire for connection again in the duet “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” with Andrew Soutter who plays Moritz. Both actors take liberties with the song’s melody and their choices result in absolute magic. Soutter gives us a more Broadway ballad tone to what is usually a punkier sounding song that really expresses emotional intimacy and Scully sings his counterpoint with all the brilliance and brightness she can bring to the role.
Other LOT favourites Scott Labonte (the show’s male lead, Melchoir), Jacqueline Martin (the female lead, Wendla), and Erik Kopasci sing and play their roles admirably to give us a well-rounded cast. I do wish we would have got to hear more of Kopasci’s rock belting in a show that demanded it; he was criminally underused in the bit-part of Georg.
My favourite couple from the musical is Hanschen Rilow and Ernst Robel and I’ve always felt like their “Word of Your Body (Reprise)” is a nice foil for Melchior and Wendla’s version of the song because it shows a more healthy possibility for a romantic relationship with an uneven power dynamic. So, while I was thrilled with the way Matt Chenuz (Hanschen) and Evan Benyacar (Ernst) played their parts in that song, – particularly Benyacar, who gets Ernst’s terror of and desire for Hanschen exactly right – I wish this production had given us more ensemble moments between them. I’ve seen the LOT brilliantly amp up the relationship between Collins and Angel in Rent this way and director Heather Braaten certainly did this for the relationships between Ilse and Martha and Ilse and Moritz.
The only true weak point in the show was Mitch Wedgewood’s turn as Headmaster Knochenbruch who is supposed to be a comic monster, but instead becomes a really uncomfortable one-dimensional villain. The interpretation is a little mismatched next to Shannon Dickens’ Fräulein Knuppeldick whose comedic interpretation of the part is more nuanced. With all of the synchronized hand gestures in those scenes, it’s hard to take a serious interpretation of that role seriously.
In all, the Lower Ossington Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening is a pretty great production of one of my favourite plays of all time. It’s well worth the trip down to the South end of Ossington to see it!
- Spring Awakening is playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington Avenue) until March 1
- Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Saturday at 2pm and on Sunday at 4pm
- Ticket prices range from $49.99-59.99 and are available online, or through the box office at 416-915-6747.
Photo of Evan Benyacar, Emma Gibney, Jacqueline Martin, Scott Labonte, Victoria Sculley, Andrew Perry, Andrew Soutter, Tiera Watts, and Natasha Strilchuk by Seanna Kennedy.