Review: Spring Awakening National Youth Music Theatre at Leicester Curve.

three half stars

For musical theatre aficionados an announcement that Spring Awakening – the musical is playing at Leicester Curve must be like musical theatre news from heaven. Over the years the theatre piece has won dozens of awards and thousands of fans. It is particularly popular amongst people in their late teens and early twenties and it is a perfect vehicle to engage their interest with its incendiary themes of burgeoning sexuality, growing self confidence, self doubt, child abuse, ignorance, isolation and above all an agent for change and hope for the future.

spring awakening

Curve’s ambitious Celebrating Emerging Talent programme joins forces with National Youth Music Theatre in this production of Spring Awakening -the musical. Based on a hard hitting play by German playwright Frank Wedekind the book and lyrics for this version are by Steven Sater with the folk influenced and rock music created by Duncan Sheik. Curve’s Nikolai Foster directs, the design is by Takis. Lee Proud choreographs this wonderfully talented and youthful cast to energetic and visually creative perfection.

Although based in late 19th Century Germany we see the costume design for the young people to be in contemporary clothes with the exception of the young adults playing the teachers. The teachers are dressed in grey military jackets of the original period. The stage is a tilted square playing space with a backdrop of graffiti with a huge hanging square of, height and angle adjusted, gantry lighting (lighting designer Prema Mehta). The live musicians are placed above the action either side of the mezzanine  (musical director Dougal Irvine). Sound design comes courtesy of the sound designer Callum Wills.

Overall the piece works brilliantly musically and, through its sterling direction and choreography. All this is demonstrated through the evident talents of all the young actors. On this opening night however, this reviewer finds  a fair few of the ensemble’s sung numbers lyrics quite difficult to understand even though the actors are miked. The acoustic in these circumstances sounds somewhat dampened and  woolly and spoils what actually appears to be some beautifully sung sections. Thankfully this isn’t the case with the individual numbers and in the spoken text.

There are some extraordinarily brave and mature performances from Nathanael Landskroner as intelligent rebel Melchior Gabor and Toby Turpin as the emotionally confused Mortiz Stiefel. Claire O’Leary brings out Wendla Bergman’s touching sexual naivety as well as the strange nature of her desire to be whipped by the initially appalled Melchior. One of the most touching scenes is the innocent seduction scene between Ernst and Hänchen (Oscar Morgan and Stuart Thompson) and their maturity in this augers well for their futures in acting. The singing of this company in general is impressive, often very moving and in the number “Totally Fucked” amusingly startling as a rebellious anthem of frustrated youth.

The complete ensemble put their hearts and souls into Spring Awakening – the musical and the finale ‘The Song of Purple Summer’ led by Ilse Neumann (Aliza Vakil) leaves the cast and beaming audience with a feel good factor at the end of a poignant evening of very expressive theatre.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

Runs at Curve until 20th August 2106

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