Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Spring Awakening" rocks at St. Petersburg's freeFall

   "Spring Awakening" was kind of the "Rent" of its time -- a rock musical with classical roots that caught fire, especially with younger audiences.
    FreeFall's "Spring Awakening"
   St. Petersburg's freeFall Theatre is ending its 2012-13 season with a stunning production of the groundbreaking 2006 musical.
   In fact, the production, which features a phenomenal cast headed by Pinellas County native/Broadway star Rachel Potter, a great six-piece band scattered around the space and an imaginative in-the-round staging directed by Eric Davis, outshines the play itself.
   "Spring Awakening" takes a 19th-century German melodrama about adolescent sexuality, and adds modern music by Duncan Sheik (with a book and lyrics by Steven Sater). Part of the appeal is the unabashed anachronism, as 19th-century school kids grab microphones and belt out contemporary pop-rock show tunes.
   The songs are great but the emotional impact of the story is blunted. The presence of some 20 songs interrupts the narrative, and the plot is so extreme and so dated that the characters' very real tragedies, which include suicide and a death from an illegal abortion, can leave you shocked but not genuinely saddened. Besides, it's hard to buy these 20-something actors as school children who don't make the connection between sex and pregnancy, even after they've had sex and gotten pregnant.
   Still, the plot's involving, the songs are catchy and smart and the acting, singing, dancing and staging make for a powerful evening.
   Potter (who had healthy roles in "The Addams Family" and "Evita" on Broadway and in the national tour of "Wicked") and Chase Peacock (who was in "American Idiot" on Broadway) head a phenomenal cast of charismatic and athletic young actors with gorgeous voices. And Lisa Kay Powers turns in a typically wonderful performance. (Powers and Steve Garland, who's also good, play all the adult roles.)
   The in-the-round staging is effective and involving, but it has a drawback. Some people if the audience end up with bright white light shining directly into their eyes through much of the shows. For long stretches, some audience members had to shield their eyes and peer through their fingers to watch the action.
  It runs through Aug. 18 at freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.  7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $39 and $46. For information call 727-498-5205 or go to

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