Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Spring With All The Swings

The review below was written by request from DramaMama, an online friend of mine. Since Spring Awakening had several cast changes in the last month, I thought it might be of interest to the Junkies that read my blog. This review is unique in that it has not only reviews of the three new regular cast members, it includes reviews of three understudies that went on that night. Enjoy!


January 1st was my birthday. For my birthday, my husband and I spent the evening doing some of the things I love to do most: having Japanese food and seeing Spring Awakening. And as luck would have it, our seats this time were the onstage variety, which gives this review its own flavor.

The first performance of Spring Awakening in 2008 had three new actors I was expecting: Kate Burton as the Adult Women, Glenn Fleshler as the Adult Men and Blake Bashoff in the pivotal role of Moritz, recently vacated by Tony-winner John Gallagher, Jr.. But then I was pleasantly surprised to see three swings listed on the understudy board: Matt Doyle as Ernst, Gerard Canonico as Otto and Jesse Swenson as Hanschen. I’ve seen both Matt and Gerard do roles in their tracks before but never Jesse.

Mind you, the last time I saw Spring was on December 9th, the show’s 1-Year Broadway-versary performance. The original Broadway cast was in it that night, save Gideon and a few swings, and it truly was the best I had ever seen it. That performance really warrants its own review, if I ever get around to it. So when I talk about Tuesday night’s show and the six new actor/role combinations, it really is comparison to that amazing show on the 9th, which is a tough one to be compared against.

When we arrived at the O’Neill, we went to store our stuff only to discover that one of our lockers was already occupied. Fortunately, we were able to smoosh it all into one locker and spared ourselves the hassle of getting the House Manager involved. So long as there wasn’t a butt in one of my seats, I didn’t care. As we made our way to our seats I spotted someone I thought I recognized from college. The college I went to over 10 years ago in small town Ohio. Seriously. And I only had two glasses of wine.

We settled into our incredibly comfortable wooden straight-back chairs (ha, ha) and listened to the spiel about leaving the stage and not tripping the actors. I was suddenly VERY conscious of my feet. Since all the girls went on, both Eryn and Alexandra made their way to the stage, while Gerard and Matt’s chairs remained unfilled. I scanned the audience to see if I could locate my college friend look alike. I did. But she didn’t look up. Enter Lea and the show began. Ah, bliss!

I think I will take the actor-by-actor approach to this review, focusing specifically on the performances that were new to me. Overall, the energy was a little less than contagious that night. I’m guessing that can be attributed to the fact that it was New Year’s Day and there may have been a late-night party or two on Monday night. Just maybe. Not excusing, just explaining.

It is no secret that I find Johnny Gallagher to be an incredible performer and I truly loved what he brought to Moritz. He has definitely left his brand on the role. I’ve seen both Gerard and Blake u/s Moritz and both interpretations have definitely incorporated some Gallagherisms. That is a compliment in its truest form and a testament to why Johnny won the Tony. I think Blake does a great job and, as he becomes more comfortable in the role, I’m hoping he will stretch his performing muscles even more. I think his vocals fit the show nicely – not too trained but then nothing spectacular either. Where he’s got chops is in the acting. The pacing between him and Groff during the Faust/”Touch Me” scene was great. And I loved the whole “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” scene - dialogue and song. He is definitely an intimate actor and sitting up close gave you a real sense of Moritz's character. I think Blake is still in the “by-the-book” phase of his performance in regard to vocals, blocking and character. He is taking direction at this point and hasn’t quite reached that comfort zone that comes with time. To be fair, he was working off of three understudies that night, so he had even more to focus on than when the regulars are on.

This was my first time seeing Kate Burton and, having read others’ reviews, I did not have high expectations. One of my friends said that the only way she could improve the production would be by leaving. My opinion is not that harsh. However, I agree with the general consensus that she needs to find the humor in the role. With Christine, there is also a sense of warmth that I did not get from Kate. Fortunately, the show is not about the Adult Women, and in the end she managed to progress the plot and convey her various roles throughout the story.

Thankfully, too, the play is not about the Adult Men. I really did not care for, Glenn Fleshler, the replacement for my beloved Stephen Spinella. What I liked about Spinella’s Adult Men was the everyman quality they had, which juxtaposed nicely against the harshness of his characters. It gave you a sense that no man is safe from the dangers of conforming to societal pressures. With Glenn, there is a physical presence about him that makes him come off oafish and bully-like. And he scowls a lot. And he was nasally. And why doesn’t he look like his headshot, DramaMama, why? OK - so I guess I didn't really like Glenn. But again, not about him.

And then there were the boys:

Matt Doyle, ever the consummate professional, was very focused and definitely hit his mark as Ernst. I got the sense from his blog that he doesn’t go on in his Ernst track very often. Vocally he was right on, which I know is his strong suit, so no surprises. He got quite a few laughs in the vineyard scene, which was nice to see, since Melchior doesn't get a whole lot of laughs. Of all of the swings, I love it most when Matt is in a role. I’d love to see his Georg someday. Hopefully before some other project sweeps him away.

The currently controversial Gerard Canonico, went on for Otto. Why controversial? There’s a message thread where a few people have their knickers in a twist about his behavior onstage when he’s not performing. So I made a point of watching him closely. I have to say, he was a great Otto. His “Touch Me” solo was great, I really liked his delivery of the “you’re just a fly” line in TF and he totally rocked BoL. And when he was in the sidelines, he was appropriately engaged. In fact, I found myself noticing bored looks on OTHER cast members’ faces, so maybe it is indeed a directorial choice. This is the third time I’ve seen Gerard in a role and I can safely say that that is where he shines and is probably where he prefers to be. But then, what actor wouldn't?

This was my first night seeing Jesse out of his Ensemble chair. I’ve seen JBW five times, so I was ready for a change. I have to say, I really liked his Hanschen. He seemed to get a few extra laughs during the Desdemona scene. And you can include Gerard amongst those, because he seemed to be enjoying the scene immensely. What I really liked about his performance was how well he captured Hanchen’s elitist attitude. He also gave Hanschen a slightly crueler edge, in both his line delivery and his physical presence. I definitely would like to see his in his Melchior track. I wonder is that call Jesschior?

As for the rest, nothing really stood out as exceptionally good or bad. I did find myself looking at shoes a lot. But then, I’ve seen it enough times that I tend to look at things that I normally would not be looking at when I’m at a Broadway show. I noticed that Kate has real boots, whereas Christine wore character shoes with those cloth covering things. That always bothered me. And why on Earth did Gerard have to wear girlie brown boots that look like something out of an 80s fashion magazine when all the other boys have black shoes? I mean really, guys, you have recouped, right?

I also noticed that in Melchior’s study scene, when he is writing in his journal, that he is writing with a ballpoint pen. And a pretty contemporary-looking one at that. I would think that ballpoint pens had not yet made their way to 1891 provincial Germany. I could be wrong, I’m not an expert in writing implements. Of course, one could argue that they didn’t have wireless microphones either.

While the first performance of 2008 was a markedly different performance than the December 9th show, it still found me resisting every temptation to leap out of my chair and scream “blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!” at the top of my lungs. There is just something about that score. And there are performers that are consistently good and most of them were there to ring in the New Year with a show that, ultimately, rocked!

So, I think I’ve had my fill of Spring for a while. Although I’m sure that I will find my way back before Groff and Lea leave. And I’ve yet to get onstage tickets for stage left. Funny, how I always find a reason to go back. But it won't likely be until March, at the earliest.

Oh, and as for that girl that looked like someone I knew from college? During intermission, I was standing by the bar, looked up and there she was. And it actually was her! Small, small freakin’ world, eh?

1 comment:

Esther said...

Thanks for the detailed review. I really loved "Spring Awakening," and I'm so glad I got to see it over the summer with almost the entire original cast. (Unfortunately, Stephen Spinella was out.)