“I don’t care if you’ve missed shows I’ve been in, or if you miss any show of mine in the future; this show is the one to see,” Matthew Barker tells The Concordian.
Currently part of the cast of the rock musical Spring Awakening, the Concordia student pretty much echoes what most reviews have been saying about the production since its first performance in 1906: it is a must see.
The play was written by German playwright Frank Wedekind, and was prohibited from the stage up until the beginning of the 20th century. Spring Awakening is the story of Wendla and Melchior, teenagers that undergo a sexual awakening in late 19th century Germany; a time of systemic violence and constrictive societies. The musical explores the burgeoning of puberty and the lives of adolescents dealing with issues such as suicide, violence, abortion and sexuality.
Over 100 years later, these issues still provoke contention and controversy.
“Everything we talk about in the play [are] things we should think about and not things we should be hiding.”However, she believes that these issues are worth expressing.
“There is lots of violence in society too. Art is supposed to be provoking and something that people can relate to,” added sound designer Marc-Antoine Legault.
Speaking of sound, a fully costumed live orchestra directed by David Terriault presents everything from soft to rock-heavy songs, and lyrics that convey wholly what the characters are feeling.
“There is lots of swearing and funny things in the songs, because that is how those adolescents express themselves,” said Barker, who plays Georg.
According to Quesnel, the music was conceived to heighten emotions in the story, and they give power to the kids more so than the adults.
The stage design and set are minimal, so the spectator’s attention is focused on the acting. The same is true for the costumes. They remain simple in accordance with the original play written in 1890. However, set and costume designer Anna Delphino used lighter colours on the clothes worn by the teenage characters, in order to differentiate them from the adult characters. Additionally, makeup and hairstyling is understated, highlighting the nuances in the actor’s expressions, giving prominence to their emotional performances.
Doubtless, it takes a lot of talent and passion from the young actors to perform in a musical which has already won eight Tony Awards. When Barker heard about the auditions for Spring Awakening, he listened to the soundtrack continuously.
“I checked the original broadcast on Youtube, I knew I absolutely wanted to do it, so I picked my best song and I auditioned, and here I am,” he said.
Another current Concordia student, Michael Mercer, said that he learned about plans for recreating the production three months before auditions were announced.
“I saw the show in NYC when I was 16 years old and I knew that someday I wanted to do it,” said Mercer, who plays the role of Ernst.
The outstanding emotional performances given by the cast of Spring Awakening is due to the fact that the characters are relatable.
“I can definitely resonate a lot [with] my character Ernst, who is the young and affable gay one. I was certainly young and affable in high school, so I feel a lot of empathy for my character,” said Mercer.
Barker, whose character Georg is a boy infatuated with his elderly piano teacher’s breasts, feels the same way.
“I can relate to him in the fact that I once was a teenager with a sex drive [that] I didn’t know what to do with. So for me he is a lot of fun to play,” he admitted.
Spring Awakening directors Christopher Moore and Gabrielle Soskin (a Concordia graduate herself) have a lot to be proud of. They managed to perfectly blend comic and dramatic aspects. Some of the scenes make you laugh so loudly that you have to cover your mouth; others bring tears to your eyes.
Although working with two directors might seem challenging, everybody is enjoying this experience. According to Mercer, Soskin and Moore really complement each other.
“Chris [Moore] is taking the main reins and Gab [Soskin] is giving her insights where she sees fit,” he said.
Barker added that, for him, it has been great working with Moore because he treats them like real professionals, not just students.
“He gives us a good amount of responsibility while offering the freedom to do what we want, of course adding his input on whether it fits in the scene or not,” affirmed Mercer.
The product of this full crew is a rich fusion of drama, comedy, music, and dance that is a thrill for the senses.
Spring Awakening is produced in Montreal by Persephone Productions, and runs until Oct. 27 at Calixa-Lavallée Theatre.
Photos by Keith Race