Stray Dog Brings Us Teen Angst- From the 1890’s- With a Stirring Production of “Spring Awakening”

Schoolmaster (Keith Thompson) gets the attention of Moritz (Ryan Foizey) in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spring Awakening.”

I barely remember teen angst. No, I’m not as old as the teens portrayed in Stray Dog Theatre’s latest, “Spring Awakening” would be now (it takes place in the 1890’s), but I’m not far behind. Those universal thrills and spills are as relevant today as they were for teens in that era, however, and the raw truth is splattered all over the stage with a talented cast and top notch production values.

Justin Been has brought the grittiness of the Steven Sater script and Duncan Sheik music to life. This one’s not for the faint of heart or those who are easily offended. The typical hormone rush is treated with frankness but also other teen approaches to life such as masturbation, homosexuality, rebelling against authority, unexpected pregnancy, abortion and even suicide are exposed like a raw nerve. But despite the openness with which these themes are presented, this is a highly entertaining piece of theatre.

Melissa Southmayd and Zach Wachter as the young lovers in “Spring Awakening” at Stray Dog Theatre.

Melissa Southmayd as Wendla and Zach Wachter as Melchior are at the center as the very young teens who fall prey to nature and naivete. Both are accomplished singers and actors and gain sympathy from the start. Ryan Foizey as Moritz becomes the true anit-hero of the piece. Angst pervades his demeanor for everything from unexpected erotic dreams to failure in making it to the next grade level (due, unfortunately to academic manipulation instead of his inability). He is a tall, gangly actor that is able to use his stature to convey joy and guilt with equal expression. His best friends who can’t alter his fate but both flawed themselves, are played with equal panache by Anna Skidis and Meadow Nguy.

All the problems and anxieties of the teen spectrum are portrayed by a group of unbelievable actors and singers. Paul Cereghino, Evan Fornachon, C.E. Fifer and Anthony Christopher Milfelt are the angry boys while the remaining female class is represented by Sabra Sellers and Natalie K. Sannes. Solid performances are also turned in by Jan Niehoff and Keith Thompson as all of the adult roles. Everything from rigid school administrators to failed parents to doctors are given powerful personas by this talented pair.

The girls of “Spring Awakening” let their emotions fly in the 10th season opener at Stray Dog Theatre.

The impressive David Blake set design works well for the ethereal feeling “Spring Awakening” envokes while the Tyler Duenow lights add to the mix. The Alexandra Scibetta Quigley costumes display the proper feeling of the time and, besides the excellent work of director Justin Been, the J.T. Ricroft pounding, foot stomping choreography adds the proper touch to the anger and confusion of these teens.

A real shout out to the Stray Dog musicians as well. Led by conductor and keyboardist Chris Petersen, the band (elevated above the stage proper) is discreet but powerful. The driving score is enhanced by additional strings- including guitar, cello, violin and viola- along with the traditional bass and percussion to bring this rich score to life.

You won’t be- can’t be- disappointed with the strength and enthusiasm of this production. You’ll be mesmerized by this tragic yet somehow uplifting tale. Tower Grove Abbey rocks again as this, the Season 10 opener, shows us why Stray Dog Theatre has become THE force to be reckoned with in local theatre. “Spring Awakening” plays through October 20th. Call them at 314-865-1995 or contact them at http://www.straydogtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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