A little teenage angst–what’s the worst that can happen? In the case of Spring Awakening, now at Manoa Valley Theatre, plenty. A rock musical set in a provincial 19th-century German town, this is a story of a clash between generations: the old, stifling, order and their offspring, repressed children bursting with rebellion and thirsting for experience. The age-old theme is knowledge versus shame, innocence versus experience.
The “awakening” begins with Wendla, a sheltered adolescent played with near-paroxysmal energy by Elise Levin. In the opening musical number, “Mama Who Bore Me,” she explores her own physical landscape, warmly embracing the curves of her young body. Levin, like most of the other members of the cast, has a powerful voice. The ethereal music played by the band just above her and the dreamlike atmosphere of the scene help to create a seductive initial moment, interrupted by the entrance of Wendla’s mother.
The role of the adult men and women–all played by Craig Howes and Liz Stone–interrupt, check, and disturb the youth who rebel, explore, implode.
Based on a play of the same name, filled with abuse and death, the musical, through songs, dance and the production’s elemental synergy, achieves a disquieting beauty. The scenes–abrupt, short and potent–represent the external world, while the musical numbers express the young characters’ conflicts and desires.
The choreography by Cindy Hartigan is both stylized and organic, even orgiastic, contrasting synchronized rock-star dance moves with throbbing massed bodies. The set also reveals internal worlds, starting off as a whitewashed canvas that’s painted on as the story unfolds.
While the action takes place on stage, the rest of the cast hover in the “rafters” above, watching, waiting, heightening the sense of impending drama, until the music starts again.
Jonah Hookano, who plays the dissident Melchior, has that rare stellar combination: the voice, the presence, the moves. In the penultimate number–“Those You’ve Known”–he gathers to him the friend and lover he’s lost until they intone “not gone,” even as their spirits depart.
Under the direction of Paul T. Mitri, MVT’s production is a profound experience.