Encore Theater Company impressively produces a compelling, passionate production of composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist-librettist Steven Sater’s 2007 Tony Award-winning pop/rock musical “Spring Awakening,” a riveting coming-of-age account based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial, banned 1891 play of the same name.
Presented at Courtyard Crossing with a refreshing intimacy rivaling its off-Broadway debut, “Spring Awakening” uniquely transpires in 19th century Germany with a contemporary spin, primarily in its wonderfully melodic score. The thought-provoking tale, firmly led by Ray Zupp and Lisa Glover as doomed lovers Melchior Gabor and Wendla Bergman, skillfully addresses the joy and repercussions of teen angst and budding sexuality among such bold elements as abortion, incest and masturbation. As Melchior and Wendla’s heated desires and yearning for connection dramatically swell under the repressive weight of hypocritical authority, Zupp and Glover provide emotionally honest portrayals rooted in innocence and burgeoning hope. Zupp, defiant and headstrong, effortlessly exudes Melchoir’s magnetism and influence among his close-knit buddies and female admirers. He also brings a sincere earnestness to his solos (the moving “Left Behind” is a definite heartbreaker) and masters Melchoir’s self-assured persona as a man-child who truly has so much to learn. The radiant, vocally enticing Glover delivers a breakthrough performance that endearingly reveals Wendla’s delicacy, sheltered existence and inquisitiveness. Sharply indicating the confusion and pain of a guileless young girl who “ruined all the true plans,” Glover notably supplies a seductively mood-setting rendition of “Mama Who Bore Me” and a beautifully lyric-driven “Whispering” effectively capturing Sater’s pensive poetry. Zupp and Glover’s unshakable chemistry, a significant factor of the show’s success under the crisp, emotive direction of JJ Parkey, particularly soars in “The Word of Your Body,” a warmly expressive blend of intertwining hands and romantic gazes choreographed by Nikki Wetter.
Wedekind’s dark, impactful world – sparsely designed by Zupp, Parkey and Shane Anderson, attractively costumed by Molly Walz with period-provincial and modern flourishes, and evocatively lit by Nicholas Crumbley – equally thrives among an assortment of appealing featured players. Drew Bowen is a jittery source of agitation and agony as Moritz, an underachiever tragically damaged by his father’s scorn and his own tortured insecurity. As Ilse, Elizabeth Wellman renders a gently wistful “Blue Wind” and ushers in the gorgeous “Song of Purple Summer” finale. She is also terrifically joined by Emily Sexton (Martha) for the dynamically pulsating “Dark I Know Well.” Despite a few instances of vocal overpowering due to off-kilter sound problems, Taylor Benjamin (Thea), Bradley Farmer (Anna), Josh Hughes (Hanschen), Zach King (Georg), Sean Metcalf (Ernst) and T.C. Schreier (Otto) compatibly join Bowen, Wellman and Sexton to form an authentic, committed ensemble, particularly driving the sensuality within “Touch Me.” Chris Shea and Natalie Houliston absolutely shine in multiple adult roles that rank among their finest work. Shea particularly embodies Herr Sonnenstich and Herr Stiefel with intimidating gusto but is also great in the smallest of moments such as his sinister appearance as Ilse’s father. The comedic Houliston is a hoot as Fraulein Knuppeldick yet thrillingly evolves late in Act 2 to portray Frau Bergman and Frau Gabor with formidable intensity. Gavi Beloff, Nick Boyer, Trevor Coran and Nicole Dine are effectively planted within the audience as featured singers. Musical director John Faas guides a sufficient orchestra.
Thanks to a winning cast and a clear artistic vision, “Spring Awakening” provides the perfect opportunity to discover why Encore remains a daring, risk-tasking musical theater force in our community.
“Spring Awakening” continues Feb. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. in Courtyard Crossing, located on Second Street across from the Schuster Center near Boston Stoker. Act One: 55 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. The production contains adult themes and nudity. Tickets are $18. For tickets or more information, visit www.encoretheatercompany.com