By Bec Johnston
The task of constructing the world of Spring Awakening is a daunting one. A creative team must juggle a text that is equal parts wide-eyed and optimistic, confronting and cruel, while still darkly funny. It is a challenging balance to strike, especially when working with a cast of young people with varying levels of experience. The Young Australian Broadway Chorus undertakes this challenge at the Meat Market this January, more than a decade after the company first staged the production in 2011.
The plot of Spring Awakening is an evergreen coming-of-age story, and it is fitting that the cast be made up of raw youth talent. These actors come ready-made with mountains of angst, sincerity and passion, bursting over the stage and spilling into the audience like a contagion. When the ensemble came together for the rock musical moments of the show, the effect was massive and magical.
The YABC does not disappoint in the technical aspects – the choreography by Victoria Morris is punchy and punctuating. The Mirror Blue Night mesmerises with a slow pendulum of bodies bending around Darcy Smith’s Melchior. I Believe is lit beautifully from below by a sea of anonymous lanterns. The Meat Market stage provides the capacity to create some striking visuals, and this production takes advantage, with a sprawling hayloft set that the 23-strong cast populates impressively.
The four-piece band made Duncan Sheik’s famous score their own, a welcome interpretation from Josh Mulcahy that will have die-hard fans hearing something new and newcomers looking up the soundtrack on Spotify. The music is ultimately the most enduring element of this work, and it is important to get it right. The YABC’s flawless harmonising and shrewd use of dynamics meant that these songs were delivered as they should be, with all the life and richness of the original.
Where this production falters somewhat is in the delivery of the most emotional beats. Spring Awakening is rife with compounding tragedy, and the reality of this world must be portrayed with courage and honesty. Some inconsistencies in chemistry and energy sadly worked to dissolve much of the gut-punching quality present in the text. This coupled with an audience that cheered and hollered at every opportunity (appropriate or otherwise) meant that this production felt more like a concert than a play, missing the introspection needed to tackle the heavy source material.
Spaces are left for raucous applause where a swift transition may have created a fuller or more truthful impact. Comedy beats are protracted and poignant ones distorted. Special mention must however be given to Campbell Lowrey as Georg for his beautifully contemplative vocals, and Amelia McConnell’s Anna for her phenomenal instincts.
There are warnings made available to the audience that read: “This production of “Spring Awakening” … touch[es] on topics such as teen pregnancy, domestic violence, incest, suicide, and rape.” Indeed, these are heavy themes, not to be undertaken with irreverence. There is plenty of pathos inherent in the script, though at time it feels as if this production simply skims the surface of its thematic potential. Still, there is much to enjoy in the stagecraft and musicality of this production, and any Spring Awakening tragic will find plenty to love in the YABC’s energetic interpretation. The show plays until January 21 at the Meat Market – a breathtaking venue for an impressive display of musical talent from some of the future stars of Melbourne’s arts industry.