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Thrilling 'Spring Awakening' at Spreckels

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STILL BREATHING Duncan Sheik's music propels this tale of teenage sex.
  • STILL BREATHING Duncan Sheik's music propels this tale of teenage sex.

There's something exhilarating, perhaps a bit dangerous—but undeniably thrilling—about watching a mob of upset, outraged teenagers dancing their hearts out and singing obscenities. A similar energy certainly helped turn Hair into a theatrical symbol of '60s-era indignation and hope, and something akin to that happens in Steven Slater and Duncan Sheik's award-winning musical Spring Awakening.

Adapted from the scandalous 1892 German play by Frank Wedekind, condemned in its time for its frank depictions of teen sexuality, carnal curiosity and manic youthful anguish-and-ecstasy, the 2006 musical—which opened a two-weekend run last Friday at Spreckels Performing Arts Center—runs with the idea of using rock music to represent the churning turmoil of young life and love.

And damned if it doesn't work.

The original cast recording itself became a sensation, and the original Broadway staging, with its deliriously modern dance moves, blended surprisingly well with the tale of turn-of-the-century German kids trying to make sense of a world in which much of what they learn from fearful, moralistic adults is half-truth, distortion and lie. The story follows a group of students, right at the moment their bodies and minds straddle the awkward line between the naiveté of childhood and uncertain, unmapped adulthood.

A kind of point-by-point refutation of abstinence-only sex education (remember, this was originally written over a hundred years ago), Spring Awakening boldly declares what can happen when young people are denied the information they need to grow up—spoon-fed instead with a diet of storks, fairy tales and vaguely nonspecific threats of damnation for giving in to their confusing, unrelenting urges.

To get this kind of material right, you need a daring cast of young people, and director Scott van der Horst has built an astonishingly committed ensemble to tell this humor-strewn and often heartbreaking story. With inspired choreography by Michella Snider, the school-age heroes and heroines of Wedekind's gleeful, angsty epic stomp, twitch, twist, twirl and rock out to the bottom of their souls, fairly exploding across the stage in tuneful musical numbers meant to illustrate the roiling mix of emotions they have no way of expressing.

In Spring Awakening, there are some fine young voices on display, and though the acting is occasionally a little uneven, there is not one moment where the cast's deep-down identification with the material is not evident.

Remaining performances of 'Spring Awakening' run Jan. 27–29 at the Spreckels Center. 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Friday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $22. 707.588.3400.

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