Then years ago, it was Atlantis who first brought the controversial musical "Spring Awakening" to Manila, under the direction of Chari Arespacochaga. I did not like it too much back then, mostly because I could not hear the lyrics of the songs too well where I was seated. Because of this, I did not like most of the songs too much because of the poor sound quality or unintelligible singing by some members of the cast.
This year, the Ateneo Blue Rep is restaging "Spring Awakening." Once again, there is a female director Missy Maramara at the helm. Initial reactions from the shows of the first weekend had been exuberantly positive, so I decided to catch this new staging in the hopes of renewing my appreciation for this multiple Tony Award-winning musical (for Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor) which I did not get the first time.
It was 1891 in a German town. Wendla Bergmann had "blossomed" as a young woman yet her mother does not think she should know who babies are made. Melchior Gabor is radically intelligent in thought but still tended to be rash in his actions. Moritz Stiefel had been doing badly in school and his teachers do not want him to graduate to the next level. Ilse Newman was a victim of abuse in her home, so she ran away to live in a liberated artists colony. The play followed these four young people, along with their relationships with each other, their friends, teachers and parents.
The venue of this Blue Rep production was the Hyundai Hall of the beautiful new Arete building in the Ateneo de Manila campus. The entire production was set up on the huge stage, including the audience area with chairs and floor seating areas. The actual theater seats were not used anymore as everyone was on the stage very close to the action. However, this time, the sound system was designed to fit that setup, so I was hearing the words and lyrics crystal clear.
In the matinee show I caught over the weekend, the lead roles of Wendla and Melchior were played by student-actors, Erika Rafael and Ian Pangilinan respectively, making them very close to the actual ages of these two characters. Rafael had a dusky radiant beauty that made her stand out from the rest of the ensemble. Her rich sensuous singing voice was clearly heard right at the beginning with her solo "Mama Who Bore Me." Pangilinan may have a magnetic presence as an actor, but his falsettos were at times not strong enough to be heard clearly through the musical accompaniment. The chemistry between them was not really an automatic click, but it eventually became more believable before Act 1 ended. (More experienced actors Krystal Kane and Sandino Martin alternate in these roles, so that should be very interesting to watch as well.)
The marked role of Moritz was played by Jason Tan Liwag. He had that angry grit in his singing voice which worked very well in songs like "The Bitch of Living," "And Then There was None" and "Don't Do Sadness." (Juancho Gabriel alternates in this role.)
The supporting role of Ilse was played by Alexa Prats who had a unique powerful timbre in her singing voice, best heard in "Blue Wind" which she sang in a scene with Moritz. The role of abused child Martha was played by Sabrina Basilio, who sang solo in "The Dark I Knew So Well." The homosexual pair of Hanschen and Ernst was played by Anthony Peralta and JP Lapuz, but their featured reprise of "The Word of Your Body" in Act 2 felt oddly detached and extraneous in the narrative.
The strong underlying current of teenage rebellion and highly sexualized themes in its book and lyrics as written by Steven Sater (based on an 1891 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind) and put to music by Duncan Sheik may not be everyone's cup of tea. At the risk of angering the show's devoted fans, it is not exactly my cup of tea to be completely frank as I realized after watching this show twice now, 10 years apart.
However, this Blue Rep staging led by director Maramara was undisputedly topnotch. The ensemble work by the youthful cast was earnest and energetic. The stylized set design, featuring loosely hatched wooden beams and wooden floors barely painted with white, was by Ohm David, enhanced by the lights of Miyo Sta. Maria. The raw musical arrangements by Ejay Yatco brought forth a heady atmosphere of teenage angst.
This production of "Spring Awakening" possessed an excellent overall quality that could rival those of professional theater companies.
Ateneo Blue Rep's "Spring Awakening" runs until April 14 at the Hyundai Hall located inside the Arete at the Ateneo de Manila University campus. There are 8 p.m. shows Wednesday to Friday, and two shows 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."