Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She's a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre's Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater's ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
Pictured: Ensemble (background) and Haley Bolithon and Jeremiah Alsop (foreground). Photo by Nick McKenzie
By Kelsey McGrath
Before this review, I have to address the biggest truth in the room: SPRING AWAKENING is a problematic show. Originally on Broadway 2006, it contains a number of triggering concepts. Most of these glorify and redeem the cis-male protagonist despite his self inflicted damage and destruction of his female counterpart. It’s gross to advocate for in 2018. But the themes of teenage rebellion, sexual discovery, and the resistance to organized institutions still rings true today (maybe even more so).
*Phew* Glad we could talk about that. Moving on..
Blank Theatre Company’s production of SPRING AWAKENING knocked my socks off. I was hesitant to trust a BRAND NEW theatre company with SPRING AWAKENING as their inaugural show. But there were moments I started to tear up with PRIDE in being a member of the Chicago theatre community.
This production was what I love about Chicago musical theatre: we’re scrappy, we’re innovative, we’re talented af and we are vulnerable. For us, it’s about the story. It’s about the characters. We are only vehicles for them to burst into song.
At this point, I have to lift up Danny Kapinos, director and co-artistic director of the new company. It takes a very specific kind of vision to perform a “stripped down” version of anything that’s rooted in authenticity and honesty. This production’s minimalism worked to magnify the heart of the story. It reminded me of Victory Gardens’ FUN HOME, which, sans projections and mammoth moving parts, embraced stillness and vulnerability. FUN HOME brought human intimacy to the show no Broadway production could emulate. Blank Theatre Company achieved this intimacy.
The design and choreography are phenomenal. Despite having minimal set, this production fills The Frontier with energy. The design elements carry that much more weight coupled with a stark white playing space. It’s super cool and surprising to see a brand new company knock a musical like SPRING AWAKENING out of the park with no noticeable technical snafus. Kudos to lighting designer Shelbi Arndt, costume designer Nina Wallarafen, and music director Tyler Miles. I was also really stoked that this production has both a fight choreographer and intimacy designer: Brian Plocharczyk and Zack Payne. It’s refreshing to see new companies engage in Not In Our House standards and prioritization.
And I had never heard of Britta Lynn Schlicht before this show, but she KILLED it. SPRING AWAKENING’s choreography is everything: the set, the music, the story. Using dance and bodies in space as a driving force gives the show vulnerability and stillness. We really got a sense of ensemble with Schlicht’s movement; an imperative component of the SPRING AWAKENING text.
I really could go on and list everyone involved in Blank Theatre Company’s SPRING AWAKENING as a new contributor to storefront excellence in Chicago, but that’s redundant. Go see it. Talk about why the show itself is problematic, then talk about why this production was so stellar and then continue to buy tickets to this excellent new company’s productions.
SPRING AWAKENING runs through September 30th. For more information visit Blanktheatrecompany.org.