Best of 2011-2012: Spring Awakening

October 2, 2012.By John Heimbuch, Minnesota Playlist.

To all the musical theatre aficionados out there, I say: brace yourselves.

Although my theatrical tastes run a vast spectrum, including classical work, new writing, unscripted performance, site-specific pieces, and experimental drama, I rarely find myself drawn to musicals. You are welcome to find fault with me for this. The failing is mine. I accept it. You can blame an embarrassing love of Andrew Lloyd Weber during my formative years, but musicals now seem too brash. Too bold. Too on-the-nose in their emotional states and overt theatricality. Therefore, when contemplating what show of the past year had the greatest impact upon me, I was surprised to realize that it was a local production of a mainstream musical…

Spring Awakening, directed by Peter Rothstein and produced by Theater Latté Da and the University of Minnesota, was an amazing experience. But before I delve too deeply into this specific production, I need to make a brief digression and confession about the play.

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Overwhelming in its constant movement and energy

April 18, 2012.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

Confined by the rigid constraints of their middle-class, 19th-century community and confused by the new sensations and emotions they are feeling from the depths of their bodies, the young folk in Spring Awakening burst from the harsh, concrete confines of the stage, literally climbing the walls in an effort to be free. Theater Latte Da and the University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance bring out the excitement, passion, and danger that is ever present in the Steve Sater/Duncan Sheik musical.

Based on Frank Wedekind's play, Spring Awakening centers on three young adults: rebel Melchior, poor student Moritz, and Wendla, a young woman feeling the first flowers of passion. As they and their classmates fight against the rigidity of their society, they explore their feelings and bodies using whatever information they can glean, as their parents, teachers, and other adults aren't going to be any help. Their joy turns tragic as the production unfolds — this is definitely not a "happily ever after" musical — but its creators have infused it with an unexpected optimism for the characters left standing.

The company, a mix of local professionals and university students, bursts with energy at every turn, led by terrific turns from David Darrow, Cat Brindisi, and Tyler Michaels as the main trio. Director Peter Rothstein and choreographer Carl Fink present a piece that is overwhelming in its constant movement and energy — so much so that you want to jump out of your seat and join in by the end of the show.

'Spring' awakens with poignant youth

April 17, 2012.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

An intimate production by Theater Latté Da and the University of Minnesota reclaims the power of a rock musical with timeless themes.

"Spring Awakening" splashed onto Broadway in the same waters that had buoyed "Hair" and "Rent" in previous generations -- raw, rock music giving voice to an adolescent howl for recognition. The musical won eight Tonys and kept the O'Neill Theatre full for nearly three years with audiences who gobbled up Duncan Sheik's punky and alternative music.

As urgent as "Awakening" felt on Broadway, its strength evaporated in the large Minneapolis Orpheum Theatre during a 2009 tour.

This is why Theater Latté Da's production at Rarig Center, in partnership with the University of Minnesota theatre and dance department, is so satisfying. It reclaims the intimacy of Frank Wedekind's 1891 play indicting authoritarian structures. We can't expect to rediscover the shock that Wedekind evoked initially (no one touched the play until 1906), but we can appreciate the timeless cycle of youth's urge to refresh the world.

Peter Rothstein's direction feeds off the brisk pace of adolescence. When the kids aren't running about, they are throwing each other and wrestling through Carl Flink's choreography. Denise Prosek finds the thrumming heartbeat of Sheik's music with a perfect ear. All this effervescence lifts the ensemble's energy, and it creates contrast for the poignant, quiet moments. Jonathon Offutt's lighting also sets mood.

Cat Brindisi stands head and shoulders above her mates as the lead character of Wendla. In Brindisi's supple and mature voice, lyrics are cradled with meaning. Opening the show with the plaintive cry, "Mama Who Bore Me," Brindisi sings words and phrases as if they are intended to be understood -- which is not always a given. This is an actor with emotional transparency flowing through big, soulful eyes and a smile that seems larger than a human face can contain. She makes us care about Wendla's fate.

David Darrow as Melchior is less charismatic in style and voice, though he carries a spiky sensibility leavened with a hint of insecurity. Darrow's shining moment is in Melchior's full-throated scream of desperation in the song, "Totally F****ed." It is the show's most anarchic number, the cast writhing through Flink's choreographed chaos and Prosek's raucous sound.

Larissa Gritti's Ilse has the sad mien of a wanton, damaged girl who longs for innocence in "Blue Wind." Tyler Michaels as Moritz scrambles at one point into the Rarig balcony and slides down a pole, bringing "Spider-Man" to mind. His voice carries "The Bitch of Living" and "Don't Do Sadness," and yet Moritz's psychic agony somehow does not quite pierce us in Michaels' presence.

All these fresh young faces should not let us forget James Detmar and Michelle Barber, who very ably shift among the adult roles.

Rothstein's production works best on these terms: It locates the personal immediacy amid the pageantry of music and movement. "Spring Awakening" beautifully reminds us that every generation needs its voice.

Signs of Spring

April 16, 2012.By Morgan Halaska, Twin Cities Metro Magazine.

Theater Latté Da takes on "Spring Awakening," bringing an intimate story to an intimate stage.

Even before I went to Saturday night’s performance of Spring Awakening at the Rarig Center’s Stoll Trust Theatre, I counted myself as a fan.

My enthusiasm came from seeing a traveling production of the Broadway show two years ago, in Chicago. The build up left me worried that I would be disappointed. No reason. I walked out of the theater falling in love with the edgy and erotic musical all over again.

To catch you up: Spring Awakening is a rock musical, featuring music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater. It is the very definition of edgy (prudes, consider this your fair warning). Adapted from the 1892 German play by Frank Wedekind, the drama emerges from a group of angst-ridden teens dealing with their sexuality and a host of other touchy issues. Hormones (“Touch Me”), academic failure (“And Then There Were None”), suicide (“Don’t Do Sadness), and incest (“The Dark I Know Well”) are all represented here.

Wedekind’s take on these subjects was just edgy enough to generate a bit of controversy when he sought a publisher for his risqué story. The musical carries a disclaimer – yes, this show contains “nudity, sexual content, and adult situations” – but has received a much warmer welcome.

Seeing Theater Latté Da and the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theater Arts and Dance take on this bold story is a treat. Director Peter Rothstein’s ability to harness the energy of his cast and showcase their sheer talent is astounding. It was also great to see a production of this caliber at the Stoll—on the smaller side for such a big production, but large enough to not feel cramped (the use of the theater and the integration into the audience is pretty darn exciting). This intimacy helps make “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” and “Totally Fucked,” where Carl Fink’s choreography are in full effect.” the strongest numbers.

The cast (both amateur and professional) is, in a word, phenomenal. Cat Brindisi and David Darrow have the chemistry and vocals that their roles as Wendla and Melchior demand. And while Darrow looks more like a Mortiz (played by Tyler Michaels, who incidentally looks like a Melchior), both male leads own their roles and musical numbers with absolute command. Larissa Gritti (Ilse) and Grant Sorenson (Hanschen) were among two of my favorites, and Michelle Barber and James Detmar are downright impressive in their versatility as the Adult Woman and Adult Man.

The band also plays a crucial role here. Instead of being tucked away in a pit, the electric guitar, keyboard, and cello are suspended above the play’s action. Their mixing of rock and classic sounds as a perfect accompaniment to this show.

So, consider my praises sung and see Spring Awakening while you can.

Spring Awakening, a co-production with Theater Latté Da and The University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance

April 15, 2012.By John Olive, HowWasTheShow.

I’m often asked, in my exalted position as theater reviewer, if I’ve seen anything really good.  I hem and haw.  “This play at the Guthrie’s not bad, and that play at CTC is terrific if you’re seven years old, and Ten Thousand Things is great, but of course there’s no stage lighting.”  But here’s a play that rings all my bells: Spring Awakening.  Terrific story, excellent book, tasty music, superb direction, boffo performances.  Here’s one I can brag about.

Spring Awakening is a co-production between Theater Latté Da and the University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.  The talented and energetic U students have the privilege of working with a first rate director (the marvelous Peter Rothstein) and a hyper-gifted music director (Denise Prosek), on a sexy and deservedly popular theatrical tour-de-force.  Latté Da, for its part, gets to work in a pretty-good playing space (Rarig’s Stoll Thrust) with excellent tech support.  In addition, the theater can cast students in supernumerary roles, thus freeing the theater from the curse of small-cast “chamber-theater.”  This show has theater-filling presence and satisfying size.  Win-win.

Spring Awakening is a musical adaptation of the bleak and nasty play of the same title, written in 1891 by Franz Wedekind.  Wedekind’s play still packs a punch.  Adolescents, faced with shrill and unmovable social rigidity and clueless and remote adults, act out horrifically.  They masturbate, rape, slash at each other with switches (desperate to feel something, anything), commit suicide.  Desperate alliances form: Wendla and Melchior, Hanschen and Ernst.

Playwright/lyricist Steven Sater softens this story somewhat.  A rape becomes, in Sater’s musical, lovemaking.  Sater’s ending (which, needless to say, I’m not going to reveal) is more hopeful.  Still, to his great credit, Sater honors Wedekind original and this gives the play edge and makes it compulsively watchable.

There is another crucial difference: these young people sing.  This transforms the story.  Musically empowered, these characters fight back.  They transcend meek victimhood.  They have energy, spirit – and this is why this piece has become so popular among young audiences.  That composer Duncan Sheik has created a luscious contemporary rock score helps enormously: “The Bitch Of Living,” “Totally Fucked,” “The Word Of Your Body,” et al, all brilliant.  The 21st century music marries perfectly with the arch 19th century script.

Peter Rothstein is one of the premiere directors of musical theater in the country and I live in terror that an evil Broadway producer will swoop down and snatch him away from us.  His work on Spring Awakening is perfect: angular and over-the-top when it needs to be (his staging of “Totally Fucked” is gorgeous); sweet and simple when the play requires it.  He uses the Stoll Thrust with gymnastic abandon.  He has also had the good sense to hire the always wonderful musician Denise Prosek and the excellent choreographer Carl Flink.

As to the cast, wow.  I lack the space here to wax enthusiastic about everyone, but I have to mention Cat Brindisi who effectively combines the ineffably unformed sweetness of youth with solid technical choppage.  She gives a terrific performance, and so does the wiry and passionate David Darrow as Melchior.  I greatly enjoyed the edgy work of Grant Sorenson and Larissa Gritti.  The two adults, Michelle Barber and James Detmar, perform their multiple roles with cartoonish perfection.  I have to stop.  Everyone is wonderful.

Spring Awakening closes May 6.  My firm advice: call the box office asap and make reservations.  U of M students get a discount and this is a young person’s show.  Tickets will go fast and I don’t want you to miss this one.

Theater Latte Da's 'Spring Awakening' will stir you

April 15, 2012.By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press.

You could light a bonfire with the energy coming off the stage at Theater Latte Da's "Spring Awakening." A big one.

The rock-ish musical has an unlikely subject - the danger of not educating young people about sex and life - but it catches fire early, with a roomful of schoolboys singing the attention-must-be-paid anthem, "The Bitch of Living." Leaping up and down, harmonizing at full throttle and banging the furniture in the most inventive choreographic use of chairs since "Cabaret's" "Mein Herr," the boys create the kind of thrill you get only from live theater. They also underscore one of the themes of the show: that their adolescent fury is about to burst.

The same is true at a neighboring girls school, where Wendla (Cat Brindisi) and her friends also have feelings they don't know where to put. When Wendla meets the similarly disaffected Melchior (David Darrow), they start to figure things out, putting into motion a tragedy no one in their village - where even doctors are afraid to use words like "pregnant" - is equipped to deal with.

Meanwhile, Melchior's troubled pal, Moritz (Tyler Michaels) is also trapped between his feelings and his repressed parents. (The only healthy relationship in the show is a gay one, possibly because outsiders instinctively know they must figure out their own rules?)

The Broadway production of "Spring Awakening" felt stiff, trapped by its ironic setting. "Spring Awakening" takes place in Germany more than a century ago but is also meant to seem like it could be taking place as recently as this morning and as nearby as, say, the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Maybe the original production got lost in the huge theaters where it played.

In any case, Theater Latte Da's intimate "Spring Awakening" feels looser, more natural and much, much funnier. Director Peter Rothstein and his talented cast effortlessly convey the "then and now" aspect of "Spring Awakening" by hanging onto the idea that, in far too many ways, then is now.

With its young-people-in-bloom message, "Spring Awakening" can come off as earnest and precious - if there were a "Simpsons" parody, it would probably be called "Youth Youthening" - but Latte Da's production feels immediate and urgent. Right from the beginning, when Wendla races on stage before the announcer has even finished his spiel about turning off our cellphones, we get the sense of characters who are in a hurry to find out about the world. Trouble is, they are not getting any help from the adults in their lives, who are so peripheral that all of them are played by actors James Detmar and Michelle Barber (the real-life mother of Brindisi, her roles include that of Wendla's mom).

Maybe the smartest of many smart decisions in this production was producing it in collaboration with the University of Minnesota. The young actors don't have to pretend to be young because they are young, as Michaels demonstrates by turning the jungle-gym-like set into a literal playground during his acrobatic "Don't Do Sadness."

Brindisi, whose father is Michael Brindisi, artistic director of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, finds a mass of youthful contradictions in Wendla, who is vulnerable, funny, brave and terrified all at once (prediction: Chanhassen/"Funny Girl"/soon). Cutting through the confusion is Grant Sorenson, who is hilarious as the matter-of-factly gay Hanschen.

But, honestly, "Spring Awakening" presents an evening full of highlights: Carl Flink's emphatic choreography (which suggests Bill T. Jones' original moves, but feels more organic), the gorgeous blending of the voices, Jonathon Offutt's elegant lighting design. If I were a fan of musical theater, I wouldn't want to miss any of it. Wait. I am one. And I'm glad I didn't.

What sheer joy looks like on stage . . .

April 15, 2012.By Matthew A. Everett, TC Daily Planet.

If you're in need of a jolt of adrenaline in your entertainment, see the musical version of Spring Awakening currently on display from Theater Latté Da and the University of Minnesota Theater Arts & Dance Department. It's a welcome reminder of what sheer joy looks like on stage, and what a play can do to an audience when it's fully and vibrantly alive.

In a word: damn!

(Honestly, just skip the rest of the review and go see the thing. If you really need convincing, read on…)

Underage sex, masturbation, incest, suicide, homelessness, child abuse (physical, emotional & sexual), back alley abortions, sadomasochism, homosexuality. When Frank Wedekind first wrote the play Spring Awakening back in the early 1890s, it spent more time being banned than performed. It was only published when Wedekind put up his own money to do it. The play was a controversial stew of issues which added up to a stinging indictment of a sexually repressed society willing to sacrifice its own children on the altar of ignorance. If children had the smarts and the gall to go learn about sex for themselves, they were abruptly criminalized and set adrift to fend for themselves on the streets.

So, perfect fodder for musical theater, right?

Actually, hell yeah.

Wendla (Cat Brindisi) knows too little about the realities of sex. Melchior (David Darrow) knows too much. Neither of them has any idea how to process the emotions which overwhelm them as they grow closer and closer with each encounter. Ultimately they manage to form a genuine bond between them that transcends their physical relationship, but the adult society around them is remarkably efficient at keeping them apart.

Meanwhile, Melchior tries to counsel his best friend Moritz (Tyler Michaels) on how to survive school, and of course puberty. Moritz tries his best on both counts but again the adults in his life both at school and at home seemed to be lined up against his succeeding.

I was already familiar with Wedekind's play from my own theatrical past but I went into the performance of the musical with no prior knowledge. My fears about the translation of this story to the musical theater genre were unfounded. Book writer and lyricist Steven Sater does a great job adapting the original text, remaining true to its spirit (and nearly all the elements of its overstuffed plot). Composer Duncan Sheik's pop-rock sensibility makes for catchy melodies both bombastic and lyrical. (I freely admit that I immediately downloaded the cast album when I arrived home after the show.) It's easy to see why this thing cleaned up at the Tonys during its original New York run (eight awards out of eleven nominations). In a way I'm grateful I missed out on seeing the touring company because I can't imagine it being as thrilling as the intimate staging the musical gets here from Latte Da at the U of M's Rarig Center.

Director Peter Rothstein gets deeply felt performances from all his actors. The reason the audience cares about all these kids and what happens to them is that they are so achingly real. Music Director Denise Prosek gets equally remarkable singing performances from the cast. (Yes, they're mic'd but you'd have to be when this band is rocking out: Prosek, Greg Angels, Sophie Deutsch, Steve Grisdale and Geoff LeCrone).

And the choreography, oh, the choreography. Carl Flink has these kids stomping and leaping and flying and climbing on anything that will lift them off the ground and into the air. It's a powerful, athletic, often gravity and sense-defying set of physical pictures on stage that keep building until it's all you can do to stay in your seat in the audience. I always appreciate theater, no matter the product. I'm rarely excited by it. Rothstein, Prosek and Flink and their ensemble created an evening of theater that excited me, because it reminded me what theater can do if you don't hold anything back.

Spring Awakening is not for the faint of heart. That laundry list of incendiary topics at the beginning of the review wasn't random. The script contains all of that and more. In addition to the triumphs and travails of Wendla, Melchior and Moritz, their schoolmates have several compelling subplots of their own. Martha (Rebecca Wilson) reluctantly reveals to her friends that she is being beaten by her father, but what she doesn't share with them is far darker. This parallels the story of their former friend, and now cautionary tale, Ilse (Larissa Gritti), tossed out by her parents and now bartering her body at a nearby artists colony to keep a roof over her head, clothes on her back and food in her stomach. Gritti's Ilse sings movingly of innocence lost, and this drives her to reach out and try to save her old friend Moritz in his time of need.

On the lighter side, Wedekind's original scene of teenage boys kissing has blossomed into a comic (yet still respectful) subplot. Hanschen (Grant Sorenson) patiently (but doggedly) pursues Ernst (Jack Tillman), the strapping object of his desire. He doesn't have to work too hard to pursue the boy. Hanschen and Ernst's reprise of Melchior and Wenda's love song from earlier in the play is one of many clever touches in this musical adaptation of which the production makes full use. And though Darrow shows the most skin (hence the nudity warning), it's Sorenson who takes the prize for most brazen. Sorenson spends a large amount of stage time in an early musical number unrepentantly masturbating under his nightshirt (even wiping his hand off at the end so we know he's done). (Like I said, not for the faint of heart. A lot of the language in the dialogue and lyrics is very frank and adult. But if you meet this production on its own very human terms, you won't regret it.)

One of the wonderful surprises of this production is the work of James Detmar and Michelle Barber as all the many adults in this play's universe. This is part of the reason I don't always peruse my program ahead of time. I like to be caught off guard. The realization dawned on me slowly. "Holy crap, that guy is all the fathers, the male teachers, the preacher, the doctors. And she's all the mothers, and the female teachers." Their chameleon-like acting chops, aided by Rich Hamson's many clever costume choices, made me forget time and again that they were all the same two people. Funny and scary and even sympathetic, Detmar and Barber created their own ensemble of characters within the larger ensemble cast. Great work, and a real kick to watch in action.

A quick shout-out to Jonathan Offutt, both set and lighting designer here, who takes a two-tier set of simple black planks of lumber and transforms it over and over again with some truly stunning and beautiful stage lighting. His work gives these beautiful people an even more beautiful environment in which to exist, even when things turn a little metaphorically dark.

And I can't say enough good things about the trio at the center of all this overheated madness. Cat Brindisi's Wendla may be ill-informed but she's not stupid. This is a girl who knows how to go after what she wants. She may be victimized but she's no victim.

Tyler Michaels gives poor beleaguered Moritz a way to fight back, even if it's only in his mind. Inside his songs, both emotionally and physically, he takes flight. Michaels' dance background shows in a big way, and he's got a voice to match. His performance is inspiring to watch, and makes it all the more heartbreaking when the world keeps trying to beat Moritz down.

Now that I know David Darrow can sing as Melchior just as well as he can act and direct both classical and modern plays, I'm starting to wonder if there's anything this guy can't do. With work this engaging, I'm more than happy to sit in the audience and watch him add to the list.

I thought the radical change to Wedekind's climactic graveyard scene would bug me, but it was a beautiful way to tie the three close friends back together again and give Melchior the strength he needed. The additional modern day coda to the evening probably should have bugged me, too, and yet I found myself loving it. Because let's face it, the issues these characters are struggling with haven't changed in over a hundred and twenty years. A lot of these battles seem even more intense now than even when the musical version first hit the stage just five years ago. We could all use a powerful injection of hope into this mess. And that's exactly what Spring Awakening gives us.

Like I said before: damn. And hell yeah.

Very Highly Recommended

Theater Latte Da and U theater team up for 'Spring Awakening'

April 12, 2012.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

For a hit musical, Spring Awakening is particularly bleak. The Tony Award-winning piece by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (based on Frank Wedekind's 19th-century play) delves into teen suicide, physical abuse, incest, and a failed abortion. Still, the whole piece "is ultimately hopeful," says Peter Rothstein, the director of a new Theater Latte Da/University of Minnesota co-production opening this weekend on the Rarig Center's Stoll Thrust.

"The piece sets up an initial conflict between purity and authority, but where the show twists is that everyone has gray areas in their lives. The hero learns he is gifted, but still makes mistakes. There is a place where everyone finds themselves in this swirl of gray," says Carl Flink, the department chair of the University of Minnesota Theatre Arts and Dance Department and the choreographer for Spring Awakening.

The piece features the talents of both Theater Latte Da's professional actors and students from the University of Minnesota Theatre Arts and Dance Department program.

"I wanted it to feel like a co-production from top to bottom. We literally have half and half student and professional designers and assistant directors, which I think is extraordinary. I never had the opportunity to be a voice at the table or alongside a production when I was a student," Rothstein says.

"We really seek projects where both entities can work," Flink says. "Peter's got performers at the age level you want in Spring Awakening. We've gotten layers of our students to work side-by-side with professionals in a substantive way. It's a very different experience between being an observer and being immersed in it."

Rothstein's first experience with the musical sparked his interest in producing and directing it for Latte Da. "I was in New York and it was a Wednesday matinee. The audience was almost all students, and it was hands down the most volatile theatrical experience I've ever had. The audience was having their own dialogue with it," he says. "We always want the audience to be a second character, but here there were three -- they were having their own conversation."

Rothstein also saw a show that was more malleable than most modern Broadway productions, allowing both he and Flink to put their own stamp on the proceedings. The work itself is not a traditional musical-theater piece. The songs are not there to advance the action, but instead act as the free and alive interior lives of the repressed students in late 19th-century Germany. The conceit for the original production was to have the actors pull out microphones for the songs, as if they were in a modern rock show. Rothstein didn't want to go in that direction. He thought the microphones could act as a crutch for the performers.

"It allows them to hide behind an artifice," Flink says. "We want to use the words and physical language to convey an emotional state, and something that does propel the story forward in a nonlinear way."

"We were getting to the end of a Friday-night rehearsal and I knew we couldn't dive into 'Totally Fucked,' so I arranged a music list and had a little rave/slam dance for half an hour. At the end of that, I had them sing the song. Singing it with that level of exhaustion was very cathartic," Flink says.

Considering the subject matter and the nudity in the play, Flink is ready for the complaints. "As not only an artist, but an educator, it is critical not to deflect away from difficult and challenging material. And one purpose of the co-production with a community partner is to show that these questions don't just happen in the sealed ivory walls of a campus. With the audience Latte Da will bring in, this becomes a much more public discussion," he says.

Spring Awakening opens as first main-stage musical in four years

April 11, 2012.By Nickalas Tabbert, Minnesota Daily.

The musical offers U theater a chance to “make its name as a legitimate musical institution.”

As spring awakens at the University of Minnesota, an opportunity comes for the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance to define itself.

Through a partnership with Theater Latté Da of Minneapolis, the department brought a main-stage musical back to campus for the first time in four years. Students will perform a rock musical about teenagers discovering sexuality called “Spring Awakening,” based on an 1892 German play by the same name.

“The U doesn’t take advantage right now,” said Carl Flink, the musical’s choreographer and chair of the theater department. “It’s just waiting there to happen.”

Opening night is Saturday at the Rarig Center, and students on and off stage have spent countless hours rehearsing with industry professionals, including director Peter Rothstein, who founded Theater Latté Da.

Rothstein said there was no better place for the musical than on campus because the topic is relatable to the audience.

“College is where you define yourself,” he said, adding that the audience can relate to the characters because they have flaws.

“It’s easier to align yourself with a character that is not perfect.”

Flink said it’s also “an incredible opportunity for students to work with professional actors, design artists and Peter.”

“It’s encouraging to know students can get roles in their first few years out of college,” said Grant Sorenson, a theater senior playing the character Hanschen.

“Rarig’s job is to train actors to go out and have a career,” he said. “This play can put the University’s program in a completely different light.”

Flink said it’s easy to tell that both the students and professional actors are learning from each other because of how close they’ve become.

Larissa Gritti, one of [seven] nonstudent performers, who plays Ilse, said she’s been impressed with the students’ work ethic.

“The students are so passionate and care about what they are doing,” she said. “They might as well be considered professionals.”

Cat Brindisi, one of [seven] professional actors performing, said she doesn’t feel a difference when working with the students.

“We’re all trying to tell the same story and do the same play,” she said. “It is one of those shows where you just get really close with your fellow actors really fast.”

Long nights, little dairy

Preparations for the musical began last summer with scenic design, Rothstein said. Auditions were held last fall, and rehearsals began in late February.

Jack Tillman, a theater arts freshman and one of 14 undergraduate performers, said he went to four callbacks to get the role of Ernst.

“It was really relieving to know that all the work I put into auditioning for the show was worth it,” he said.

For nearly two months, the cast and production staff met each night to prepare the music and choreography. At one point, the cast sat down together at a table and analyzed each scene “so everyone is telling the same story,” Rothstein said.

All of the musical’s elements have come together in the past two weeks. During “tech week,” Rothstein led the production staff in making lighting, costume and music changes, while Flink advised actors on improving their dance movements.

“There are a million decisions to be made regarding the specifics of the play,” Rothstein said. “Every art form is together in the play, and navigating every piece in six weeks is a challenge.”

Rehearsals totaled 25 to 30 hours a week, Tillman said. Last weekend, rehearsal ran from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“People don’t understand this is like a job,” Tillman said. “It’s not the same hours, but it does have the same time commitment as a regular 9-to-5 job.”

The learning continues past opening night, however. Most college productions run one or two weekends, Rothstein said, but “Spring Awakening” will run four weeks with five shows a week.

“It is a notable challenge to learn how to sustain one’s voice and emotions,” he said.

Rebecca Wilson, an advertising junior, said there are little things that can be done “to make sure we don’t burn ourselves out” before performance time, like not singing at maximum volume to conserve her voice.

Cutting back on dairy helps too, because it prevents a buildup of mucus.

“So you drink a lot of tea to make sure your throat is prepared to sing,” she said.

The directors remind actors to take care of themselves.

“It’s all about sleeping when you can, budgeting your time to get the rest you need and not overexerting yourself,” Wilson said.

Ready for an audience

With preparations nearly complete, attention now turns to performing.

“Everyone will have a connection to at least one of the issues in the play,” Flink said. “It applies to all age groups.”

Tillman and Wilson said they are excited to see what the audience thinks.

“You can rehearse it thousands of times, and it can be the same every time, but once you get an audience in there, it really feels like anything could happen,” Tillman said. “Having a live audience that wants to see the show cannot be replaced.”


Spring Awakening

April 5, 2012.By John Townsend, Lavender Magazine.

When German playwright Frank Wedekind penned his milestone 1891 drama on adolescent sexuality, he never could have imagined that Spring Awakening would also become a groundbreaking Broadway rock musical in 2007. Peter Rothstein now directs that winner of eight Tonys’ first local production presented by Theater Latté Da in partnership with the University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, renowned and beloved for its more classic approach to musicals.

Music director Denise Prosek says Duncan Sheik’s score, more hardcore than any of her previous Latté Da work, is “driven by the rhythm section, especially the guitar. The songs are contemporary, alt-rock, and they live in a groove intended to create an emotional atmosphere rather than a story-driven exploration. The rhythm, harmony, and melody range from hypnotic to driving rock beats. The band consists of drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, and cello. We rehearsed with a real piano for the first couple of weeks and now we’re using a keyboard. The difference in the tone with the electronic sound made all the difference in the intention of the piece. It has to live in the instruments of the rock world.”

Jack Tillman and Grant Sorenson play gay characters Ernst and Hanschen. (Sorenson actually directed a superb revival of Wedekind’s drama for the 2008 Minnesota Fringe Festival.) The set-up is that Ernst struggles with his schoolwork. As Tillman observes “when Hanschen, one of the most intelligent boys in the class, wants to be his friend and helps him with his schoolwork, he’s extraordinarily surprised, but relieved and pleased. He feels like he’s fitting in, even though most of the other children don’t care for Hanschen much. Ernst doesn’t care because Hanschen makes him feel special. And because of this, he begins to fall for him, which is something completely foreign and unknown to him. He’s never had anyone interested in him before and doesn’t know what these feelings mean, especially towards another male. While the kiss that they share shatters Ernst’s preconceived notions about his future and what he wants, he’s okay with it. He may be scared, but it’s better than anything else he’s had in the past.”

Sorenson points out that “Hanschen uses his intelligence to cover up the insecurity he feels inside. He puts on airs of being above everything—his classmates and teachers—so that he doesn’t ever appear weak or vulnerable. So then, when he finally finds a boy who falls for him, like Ernst does, it’s this mixture of satisfying victory and ‘what do I do now’ nervousness.”