MSU Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’ speaks to its college audience


A responsive crowd can enhance the experience for both spectators and performers. I witnessed this atmosphere on opening night of the musical “Spring Awakening” at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre.

Produced by the Michigan State University Department of Theatre, this story about adolescence, in words, music and movement by actors not far removed from experiencing it, came to life with the help of an audience of college-agers, perhaps classmates or friends of those on stage, and family members and theater lovers.

Going through adolescence is tough enough these days, but this is about teenagers in a German town in the 1880s where strict Lutheranism suppresses even talk about sexuality and a whole bunch of other desires.

Somehow, this play uses humor to deal with the angst of puberty and adolescent discovery. Conversely, the emotional side has more impact as it deals with suicide, rape, homosexuality, death and abortion.

The play touches on everything you’re not supposed to talk about.

The three main characters are Wendla, Melchior and Moritz. A young Wendla, played by junior Olivia Bath of Berkley, wants to understand sex and intimacy but finds no answers, even from her mother. The first song, Wendla’s “Mama Who Bore Me,” set the show’s tone beautifully. Bath’s voice was pure and plaintive throughout.

Wendla develops a relationship with Melchior, a free-thinking schoolboy she knew from early childhood. Melchior is played by Matt Antalek, a sophomore from Adrian. His knowledge and her innocence and naivete make for some interesting interplay.

Their song, “The Word of Your Body,” expresses the difference in their feelings and desires. Neither is sure how to deal with intimacy. Antalek’s singing voice is well suited for the part.

Moritz is trying to deal with exotic dreams. Melchior tries to help, but Moritz’s confusion and inability to concentrate on his studies lead to his academic failure, deeply disappointing his well-respected father.

Moritz, performed masterfully by senior Andrew Brown of Casper, Wyoming, provides some of the most comic and deadly serious scenarios. Brown uses a microphone stand to sing “Don’t Do Sadness,” adding to the scene’s drama and emotion. Touching and feeling weren’t encouraged back in this 1880s town, and mics were unheard of. Yet, this performance added yet another dimension: Videographers wove around the stage, projecting live images on three screens.

The orchestra, positioned at the back of the stage, provided support without intruding. Complex choreography powerfully reflected the story’s complexity, as did unexpected moving parts of the stage.

“Spring Awakening”

April 10-14

7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday

8 p.m. Friday-Saturday

2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Wharton Center Pasant Theatre

750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 355-6690


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