Make us your home page

Review: Freefall's 'Spring Awakening' captures glum gleefulness of youth

Lucas Wells, Chase Peacock and Rachel Potter in Freefall’s Spring Awakening.

Freefall Theatre

Lucas Wells, Chase Peacock and Rachel Potter in Freefall’s Spring Awakening.

ST. PETERSBURG — Of all the things twisted teen tragicomedy Spring Awakening gets right, the rock musical's true smarts lie in the way it captures the high-low cadence of adolescence. It is both a John Hughes comedy and a bleaker Romeo and Juliet. It is Disney cute — until a veritable princess gets spanked with a switch and impregnated by the town heartthrob. Kids are seriously bipolar. So let's sing!

Since winning the 2007 Tony for best musical, when it featured, appropriately enough, future Glee stars Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff as sexually curious youth, Spring Awakening has only expanded its rabid cult following. After seeing its incarnation at Freefall Theatre, I finally understand why. Lyricist Steven Sater and pop star Duncan Sheik modernized a dreary 19th century play by German Frank Wedekind with slick, singable songs, all the while retaining the original work's time period, locale and Teutonic oppression. It is modern and yet still retains that age-old truth: Growing up, no matter which century, can be a serious bummer.

With a cast of nubile young actors — plus two very talented grownups playing all of the villainous adult parts — Spring Awakening is intimate and in-your-face, ribald and risk-taking, the streamlined plot centering around naughty notebook scribblings that fall into the wrong hands. The play is a perfect fit for Freefall, which shares those aforementioned attributes, presenting the deliberately schizophrenic show in the round, the crowd thrust into the dizziness.

When a young German boy belts out the anthemic My Junk while fantasizing about a conquest, you can't look (or squirm) away even if you wanted to. Oftentimes that elimination of the fourth wall is breathtaking: When a jarring teen suicide is followed by the uplifting, if R-rated, Totally F-----, the line between audience and action is blurred, the epitome of this coming-of-age tale on steroids. Same goes for the finale, in which the body count rises right along with the uplift. It's a tough tightrope to walk, but Spring Awakening has become so beloved because of that rare, unique balance.

In a rather sweet coup, Freefall has benefitted from hometown pride: Lead actress Rachel Potter, who plays the uber-innocent, ill-fated Wendla, is a Seminole High grad who honed her acting chops playing Ariel and Belle at Disney World. She's starred in Broadway productions of Evita and The Addams Family, but she's spending her summer vacation here, and isn't that lucky for us. All brunette warmth and sparkly eyes, Potter sounds like she's about to belt The Little Mermaid's Part of Your World at any second. But Wendla's journey into sexuality is far from a fairy tale, which makes Potter's shattered-naivete performance that much more jarring.

The rest of the cast is just as good. Chase Peacock (from Green Day's American Idiot) plays intellectual hunk Melchior with a stoic smolder that gets him into bed and trouble; some of his vocals were marred by occasional sound glitches, but he has a solid rock delivery. Lucas Wells (HBO's Boardwalk Empire) steals the production as cursed, amorously befuddled Moritz; his eyes are geared for laughs and tears, and he garners plenty of both. Kudos as well to Steve Garland and Lisa Kay Powers who split the numerous grownup roles; it's to their credit that, despite limited wardrobe changes, the actors so nail the inflection of every bad teacher and conflicted parent — no question who the bad guys are here — you never miss a twist.

Director Eric Davis doesn't have much room or budget, which makes this staging of Spring Awakening a technical achievement as well as an emotional one. If you've ever owned a small apartment, you know that sometimes you have to go vertical; at Freefall, there's upward ingenuity in lights, stage design and dispersal of the house band.

The result is overwhelming and enlightening, terrifying and terrific, your first love and your first heartache bundled in one whopper of a theatrical kiss.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

.if you go

Spring Awakening runs through Aug. 18 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Contains adult situations and is intended for mature audiences only. $37-$44. (727) 498-5205.

Review: Freefall's 'Spring Awakening' captures glum gleefulness of youth 07/22/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 2:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Craft beer of the week: Electric Chair Sour Shandy, Angry Chair Brewing

    Bars & Spirits

    Traditionally, a shandy, like its German cousin the radler, is a simple combination of beer and a soft drink, such as a citrus-flavored soda or fresh juice. These drinks are low-alcohol, fruity and highly refreshing, making them ideal candidates for summertime sipping.

    Justin Grant/Special to tbt*
  2. Can you feel the heat? Indie rock gifts dynamite playlist for summer

    Music & Concerts

    For most of June, there was precisely one song by a rock band in the top half of Billboard's Hot 100: Believer by Imagine Dragons. (If you're feeling generous, you could count Something Just Like This by the Chainsmokers and Coldplay, but c'mon.) On the list of America's hottest singles, there were more …

    Arcade Fire performs at the Panorama music festival on Randall Island in New York.
  3. Bar review: Sample whiskey, vodka, rum, absinthe and more at Fish Hawk Spirits in Ybor

    Bars & Spirits

    While craft brewing has firmly entrenched itself in local drinking culture, craft distilling is still a very niche market. Part of this is due to outdated and arguably unfair distilling laws, and part of it is because successful distilling can often be a lot tougher and more time-consuming than brewing up a few batches …

    For $10, you can sample four of Fish Hawk Spirits’ fruit-infused vodkas, as well as its molasses-based rums, tangerine brandy and more. Old whiskey barrels lend a rustic vibe to the Ybor shop.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 30


    Into the Woods: St. Petersburg Opera presents Stephen Sondheim's musical featuring a cast of storybook characters, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. 7:30 p.m., Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $22-$67. (727) 823-2040.

    The cast of the St. Petersburg Opera's production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods includes (from left) Caitlin Mesiano as Little Red Riding Hood, Caroline Tye as the Baker's Wife and Clayton Brown as the Baker. Photo by Jim Swallow.
  5. What's Dar Williams reading?



    Dar Williams

    For our Independence Day Nightstand, we caught up with Williams, a singer-songwriter (The Christians and the Pagans and The Beauty of the Rain) and author who is well-versed in the highways and byways of America. By phone recently, she shared how her newest …

    Dar Williams performs at the Opening Night Party of the 2016 Greenwich International Film Festival in Greenwich, Conn. Her newest book is “What I Found in a Thousand Small Towns.”