By Grant Playter
Members of TCNJ Musical Theatre awed audiences with incredible choreography and inspired music selections that dealt with a wide array of socially uncomfortable topics for five performances of the rock musical “Spring Awakening,” from Wednesday, March 28 to Saturday, March 31.
From suicide to abortion, masturbation to bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, “Spring Awakening” is a Broadway musical adaptation of an 1891 German play that discusses sexual repression and its impact on younger generations. With catchy songs like “Totally Fucked” and “The Bitch of Living” that matched a set decorated with snapshots of sexual and pornographic paraphernalia, the play is delightfully candid about its core themes.
The three lead characters, Moritz Stiefel, Wendla Bergmann and Melchior Gabor, each suffer as a result of the interplay between their personalities and their knowledge, or lack thereof, of sexual matters.
Moritz is a student haunted by sexual feelings that he does not understand, and is thereby rendered an anxious wreck.
Casey O’Neill, a sophomore history and secondary education double major, portrayed Moritz in a manner that was perhaps the highlight of the play. O’Neill brought to life the walking contradictions, pains and stressors that eventually lead to Moritz’s suicide.
“It was so much fun but it was so hard,” O’Neill said. “He’s got so many problems with anxiety, and society, and his family. And he doesn’t even have an outlet for it, that’s the society that he was in, and unlike some of his other friends who have loving parents or friends, he just didn’t have that.”
While Moritz struggles with his ignorance, the protagonist of the film, Melchior, is the one lead who knows what sexual reproduction entails. However, this knowledge leaves him a cynical atheist that is critical of adults whose morals ultimately lead to the deaths of his friends.
“Melchior is a very self-confident person in the beginning,” said Suchir Govindarajan, a freshman finance major who played Melchior. “And his arc definitely goes from this person who thinks he knows everything until he has sex with Wendla. (That attitude) diminishes because he realizes not everything that he thought what it was, was what it was.”
After Melchior and Wendla have nervous and confused intercourse, Wendla’s ignorance of sexual reproduction due to her mother’s refusal to educate her becomes deadly, after it was revealed that Wendla was impregnated.
Wendla’s mother sends her daughter to get a botched abortion, which results in the death of both Wendla and the child, and leaves Melchior bereft of his two closest friends, Moritz and Wendla.
The show culminates with Melchior in the graveyard, despondent and riddled with guilt, threatening to commit suicide, but the ghosts of Moritz and Wendla come back to prevent Melchior from doing so.
“For me — the message is when it comes back to that, no matter how hard your life is, you leave so much behind,” O’Neill said. “No matter bad you think it is, it’s never that bad. It’s so important when he comes back and the message is so positive, that life is so important.”
Govindarajan also spoke about the play’s central themes, focusing on the sexual enlightenment the characters experience without guidance from the older generation.
“I think that in this society we’ve evolved so much in how we view sex, and abortions and homosexuality,” Govindarajan said. “And yet you still have factions and groups who still view it as something that we can’t talk about or as something we should punish or avoid. I think that It’s important to be constantly reminded that there’s so much we don’t know and so much we have to work towards to know.”
Not to be lost in the powerful messages at the core of the play were the impressive choreography and music. Smoke effects and pinpoint choreography made for some dazzling spectacles, while the rock-infused sounds in tandem with sex-positive lyrics had the audience tapping their feet along with the actors.
Even the somber songs like “Those You’ve Left Behind” and “Don’t Do Sadness” served their purpose, as actors delivered impactful monologues about the sorrow at the core of the plot.
“(‘Left Behind’ is) the one I worked the hardest on and it definitely increased my range with singing,” Govindarajan said. “I think it’s such a powerful song because (Melchior) not only realizes that the adults are the ones responsible for Moritz’s death but he empathizes with them because ultimately we’ve all lost a friend, a son and someone we can cherish.”
Fighting through occasional technical difficulties and fatigue, the talented actors gave performances that will not be soon forgotten.
“I think it went fantastic,” O’Neill said. “We had a great run. The whole process was great but tonight something really special was happening.”