Lindsay Pearce and Mat Vairo
in Spring Awakening
(© Kat Hess)
Lindsay Pearce and Mat Vairo
in Spring Awakening
(© Kat Hess)
Some shows need a vast arena to capture the scope of their epic nature, but for others, like the Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening, now being presented at Theatre of the Arts, a small space actually enhances the experience. Here, the stage is in such close proximity to the audience that it feels like the protagonists' dangerous passions will seep out amongst the first few rows.

The musical, written by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater and based on Frank Wedekind's 1892 German play, tells of a group of teenagers suffering for the sins of their elders. As represented by the two clueless adult characters, played by David Carey Foster and Kelly Lester, the professors, parents and other figureheads stamp out the main characters' individuality and conceal or confound the truth about sexuality from them with horrific consequences.

Popular boy Melchior (Mat Vairo) and the more naïve Wendla (Lindsay Pearce) have discovered love and sex on their own, and have no idea what could possibly go wrong. Ilse (Molly McCook) has already been rejected by "proper society" and is an outcast living off the charity of bohemians.

Moritz (Chase Williamson), the most confused of the kids, has let his sexual curiosity derail his already precarious schooling and seems to be one step away from failure. Of all the kids, only gay Hanschen seems confident in his sexuality. He knows exactly what and who he wants and has no problem taking whatever that may be.

Director Kate Sullivan uses many of the concepts from the original Broadway production, such as having the actors breaking character to grab microphones and jumping up and down like manic depressives on a sugar high. The staged chaos represents the bedlam that kids feel when they hit puberty, particularly in such a puritanical society.

The actors have bewitching voices, making such beautiful tunes as "The Guilty Ones" sound penetrating, and bringing a gritty rock flair to "The Bitch Of Living," "My Junk" and "Totally Fucked." Pearce has that amazing belt, as witnessed on TV's Glee this season, but brings real gentleness to "Whispering," while Vairo has a tender voice and a charisma that makes it obvious why he's the focus of many obsessions.

But it's Williamson, whose flickering eyes and quivering lip project the time bomb that is Moritz, who gives the show's standout performance. Howling like a rock star in "Don't Do Sadness" and "And Then There Were None," or falling out of his seat describing his panic at his first wet dream, he's an intense, fascinating mess.

Finally, Matt Magnusson is hilarious as Hanschen, releasing his sexual tensions in the bathroom or preying upon his sexually confused friend Ernst (Christopher Higgins) like a vampire.