Volume 10 Week 10

Sunday, Dec. 14


Updated March 2

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Orléans Ward
Bob Monette





(Posted 5:30 p.m., March 20)

Orléans star shines in touring production of Broadway hit Spring Awakening
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Orléans own Steffi Didomenicantonio, better known to thousands of Canadians as Steffi D., stars in the national Broadway touring production of Spring Awakening which is currently playing at the Canon Theatre in Toronto until April 19. Photo supplied

When German playwright Franz Wedekind first wrote his controversial play Spring Awakening in 1891, it was either severely censored or banned altogether.

Much of the controversy had to do with its exploration of taboo subject matter including teenage pregnancy, masturbation, sex abuse, abortion and homosexuality in a sexually repressed society.

I'm sure he would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that society has evolved very little over the past 118 years when it comes to our inability to discuss sex and various sexually related topics with our young people. Parents dread the idea of "the talk" just as much today as our parents did and their parents did before them.

In fact, if anything, we are even more repressed today than Wedekind's time. Case in point, a movie rating system which puts more of an emphasis on a sex scene than it does torture and dismemberment.

Thankfully, Spring Awakening is relatively violence free, save for a scene when the heroine Wendla prods Melchior into beating her bare legs with a stick so she can find out what it feels like.

The play, which recently opened at the Canon Theatre in Toronto for a five week stint, does cover a laundry list of the topics listed above. Too many for my liking, not because I'm a prude, not by any means, but because it's not necessary and it merely waters down the message which is ignorance can sometimes be lethal and often leads to long term damage.

The show itself was both hot and cold. The opening number was vibrant and filled with intensity and passion, but then the passion was lost in mixture of comedy and plot develop.m.ent.

I can only assume that Wedekind intended it this way to make the second half of the play that much more shocking to his 19th century Prussian audience.

As lukewarm as the first half of the play was, the second half was nothing short of spectacular from beginning to end. It was like someone passed a case of Red Bull around backstage during the intermission and presto.

It should be noted that the Wednesday evening performance was only the second time the cast had performed on the stage since the production arrived in Toronto on Monday, and perhaps they were still trying to acclimatize themselves to their surroundings. I'm not sure how much it had to do with that, or the fact that Toronto is their 15th stop in a whirlwind North American tour that kicked off in San Diego in August.

For many of the cast members, including Orléans' own Steffi DiDomenicantonio, the opening dates in Toronto were their 244th and 245th performances respectively. The schedule calls on them to do eight performances a week, including matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so it can only be expected that they might be a little "off" the odd time.

One performer who wasn't off by any means was Matt Doyle, who has replaced Kyle Riabko as Melchior, a highly-intelligent and wiser-than-his-years nonconformist. Coincidentally, Doyle replaced Riabko in the same role on Broadway, after Riabko left to do the national tour.

It's by no means a coincidence that Doyle's riveting performance had something to do with the fact that he hadn't played the role since the Broadway production closed on Jan. 18. Whatever the reason he was spectacular, as was Steffi D.

Hometown bias aside, Steffi was on point from the opening number, when I thought she might dislocate her right knee, to her spellbinding solo performance of "Blue Wind" and her manic dance moves in "Totally F---ed".

Some of you may recall that when Steffi was voted off Season 4 of Canadian Idol one of the judges predicted she would end up making more money than any of the previous season's winners. That may or may not end up being the case, but one thing is for sure, Steffi D. is going to top many a marquee on Broadway before her career is over and don't be surprised if she ends up winning a Tony Award or two. It will just be a matter of finding the right role. The girl is a bone fide star.

As for the remainder of the cast. I loved Blake Bashoff, who despite having an up and down evening, showed glimpses of brilliance as Moritz the sexually confused teenager who ends up committing suicide after he flunks out of school and is verbally dressed down by his father.

Christy Altomare, who plays Melchior's love interest Wendla, did not have her best night, although I'm sure it was an isolated occurrence for the young actress who has garnered rave reviews during the play's previous engagements. Despite reaching the level of intensity the play demands from all the actors, Altomare still came across as engaging and an absolute sweetheart.

The major draw of the play besides the earnest way it tackles the controversial subject matter, is the indie rock musical score which was written by Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater and helped propel the production to eight Tony Awards in 2007. The band is incredibly tight, especially during the trademark numbers like "The Bitch of Living", "The Guilty Ones" and "The Song of Purple Summer" which brings the production to a close.

But the highlight by far was the ensemble performance of "Totally F---ed", which pretty well sums up every time anyone has ever been caught doing something they shouldn't have been doing and knew the gig was up.

In this case the headmaster and headmistress at the school have found an "essay" written by Melchior which describes in detail and with accompanying illustrations the act of sexual bonding.

My one major complaint about the production is the lack of any sound effect when Moritz decides to stick a gun in his mouth and kills himself. The silence seemed totally out of place. The use of a gun was obviously written into the script for a reason. Why tone it down? Suicide is often violent and it should never be sugar coated.

In the final analyze, Spring Awakening is not a huge Broadway production on par with the likes of The Wiz, The Lion King or Les Mis. However, it is the most important play you will ever take your teenage son or daughter to.

It will serve as a wake up call to all those parents, who are still stuck trying to explain the birds and the bees to adolescents who already know more than we could ever glean from National Geographic spreads, or our parents' copy of Penthouse which they conveniently hid between their mattresses or at the bottom of their sock draw.

In the opening scene, Wendla asks her mother to explain to her were babies come from. "Babies are made when you really, really, REALLY love someone and you're married. The end," is her mother's abridged response.

When Wendla finds out she's pregnant after only one moment of passion with Melchior, she's horrified and yells at her mother, "But how can I be pregnant, I'm not even married yet."

Now, I know there are many people out there who believe the only sex education we should be teaching our young people is abstinence and that the very idea of letting their son or daughter see Spring Awakening is somehow mortifying, but they would be missing the point. Teaching abstinence without arming our young people with the proper knowledge of the consequences of their actions is a recipe for disaster. In fact, it's just the opposite. Teaching our young people about the facts of life and the ins and outs of sexuality will, in most cases, only serve to strengthen their desire to remain abstinent.

Personally, I'd love it if they could somehow come up with a vaccine that could keep your average 14- and 15-year-old boy's hormones in check until they at least turn 24 or 25.

As much as Spring Awakening is important viewing for your average teenage girl, it should be mandatory for every post-pubescent young male and their parents. Best of all, when you're driving back to Ottawa, there's no place they can go when the conversation turns to, "So what did you think about the play last night son".

Spring Awakening continues at the Canon Theatre until April 19 with shows every night from Tuesday to Sunday. Matinee performances will also be held every Wednesday and Saturday.

The Canon Theatre is located on Young Street across from the Eaton Centre. For schedule and ticket information visit www.mirvish.com.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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