“Spring Awakening” Oozes Angst And High Spirits In A Second Run At Stray Dog


Riley Dunn as Melchior and Stephen Henley as Moritz are properly scolded by schoolmaster Ben Ritchie in “Spring Awakening” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

It was only five years ago when Stray Dog Theatre first produced “Spring Awakening” and somehow they knew we needed another dose of teen anger and angst. This is a beautiful production that reaches the audience literally and figuratively as the cast spends some quality time with the folks enjoying the show.


Allison Arana as Wendla and Riley Dunn as Melchior in Stray Dog’s production of “Spring Awakening.” Photo: John Lamb

This time around Riley Dunn and Allison Arana play the young lovers in the 19th century German village which tries to suppress raging hormones without much success. School master and administrator and parents try to throw water on the fires burning inside these youth but they only succeed in making things worse with often tragic consequences. Mr. Dunn as Melchior is often ramrod straight in demeanor but soon succumbs to his passion for Allison Arana as Wendla. Both have exquisite voices and shine in their duets, especially the second act paean, “Whispering.”


The ladies of “Spring Awakening” during the opening number at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Stephen Henley is a superb Moritz who struggles to keep up with his studies and the abuse of his father. Again, these young actor/singers at Stray Dog are impressive- a few performing for the first time at the Abbey. Dawn Schmid is Ilse and her haunting duet with Moritz, “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind,” is a highlight of the night. Ben Ritchie, local actor/bon vivant, steps up as all the grown up male characters including the harsh task master of a school teacher and playing multiple fathers of several of the young folk. On the other side, Jan Niehoff does a great job as the multiple older women in the production.

Rounding out the cast of young men and women are Luke Steingruby, Annie Heartney, Jacob Schalk, Jackson Buhr, Angela Bubash, Tristan Davis, Bridgid Buckley and Kevin Corpuz. This is truly an ensemble as each member gets a chance to shine and their group numbers are thrilling and spectacular to watch.


The schoolboys of the Stray Dog Theatre production of “Spring Awakening.” Photo: John Lamb

Justin Been has directed with the raw power of this show blasting through on stage. He pulls no punches as this energetic cast showcases his sincere attachment to “Spring Awakening.” Choreographer Sam Gaitsch follows suit with some strong, vital numbers that work well on the small stage and rock both stage and the aisles with foot stomping and often forceful music.

Robert M. Kapeller’s set design is a powerful statement itself incorporating the abiding message of “nature” with a tree that appears to have a piano growing out of it and a small platform on stage right to accommodate a cello player. The rest of Jennifer Buchheit’s band is scattered across the back of the stage and they really make this score sound brilliant. From hard rock to soft, beautiful ballads, it is a delight to hear as well as see. Tyler Duenow’s lights are a masterpiece including hanging bare bulbs giving a festive and youthful flavor to the proceedings. Eileen Engel’s costumes also evoke the time period perfectly and then lead into a more contemporary finale with the dramatic closing number, “The Song Of Purple Summer.” You might find a few similarities to “Hair” and the evocative “Age Of Aquarius” with lots of touchy-feely in the audience as, even through death and betrayal, love must win out.


The cast of “Spring Awakening” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

This is a truly outstanding production of this haunting piece of musical theatre- raw emotion followed by serene, almost introspective beauty. You might recall moments about your own turning of age and the difficulties and trauma that inevitably turned to moments of pure bliss. “Spring Awakening” is often hard to watch but it screams of, not only growing up in 19th century Germany, but growing up anywhere, anytime, any place. It plays at Stray Dog Theatre through October 21st. Give them a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets or more information. You may want to see this one at least twice!




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