AN EXCELLENT YOUNG CAST BRINGS THE ‘SONG OF PURPLE SUMMER’ A NEW GLOW TO ‘SPRING AWAKENING’
Left Hand Theatre Company moved their North Bay team to San Francisco and late this summer opened their first production. SPRING AWAKENING spent a short run at the Turk Street CounterPulse black box stage. The show closed August 12, yet I still want to share my thoughts about this new theatre company and their stunning staging of this Tony winner.
SOME HISTORY ABOUT ABOUT The Left-Hand Theatre Co. They have been a Non-Profit since 2016, Producing rarely stage plays and musicals. Their dedication to local actors and fans of ethnicities, gender, and economic backgrounds keep their ticket prices down and their dedication to bring the arts to new communities.
LHTC Artistic Director Alexander Belmont says this is their third show “I met my current assistant director in a production of Spring Awakening - it is apparent that even though this show is over 10 year old, the themes still echoes and fights its way through other contemporary works to still be current in our political atmosphere”. Belmont is concerned about the issue of suicide among youth and in our own theatre community “Suicide hits a tender spot for many in the Bay Area, especially with in our tight knit theatre community. We hope to strengthen the awareness that those we have lost, their ghost still walk among us through the memories we’ve honored, and the times we have spent together. “The Song of the Purple Summer” is the embodiment of this idea. This show is dedicated to those who are no longer here, but who still walk behind us.”
Since this production closed in August 2018, I want to mention the production team and actors. I think my readers know the story of SPRING AWAKENING. This past season, NBC aired a new series called Rise, spotlighting a high school in a working-class neighborhood that attempts to stage the show. The school’s new drama teacher, based on real life English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli portrayed by Josh Rado, decided that rather than staging a traditional, escapist musical, the community would grow from doing SPRING AWAKENING. This musical even with its adult “Fuck You” themes is staged on many college and high school stages, I feel this was a perfect choice for the LHTC team.
Belmont’s smart staging still includes the drama and anxed of the original Broadway run directed by Michael Mayer. Growing up is a BITCH for teenage students in 19th century Germany, it’s a fight just to be heard, let alone get any answers. Parents and teachers alike dismiss their questions, fears and anxieties. With only the guidance of their peers, teens Moritz, Wendla, Melchior and Ilsa struggle to navigate religion, morality, sexuality, and coming-of-age angst with heart wrenching – and sometimes deadly – results.
Wendla is played by the compelling Camilla Leonard who I have seen on stage at the University of California at Berkeley, a few times including Cabaret. Her on point voice is powerful in the opening number “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Whispering”. Leonard is a pitch perfect sound and brings all the teen anxed to her role as the curious teenager and is properly naïve and tender as Wendla.
Melchior - the lead male is played by the audacious Kamren Mahaney, who I have seen a few times steal the stage in his past productions, including as Drew in ROCK OF AGES. Mahaney is a powerhouse in his many solo’s including "All That's Known" and "The Mirror-Blue Night". Mahaney proves his strong vocals and acting and is truly the rising star on San Francisco stages. The company surrounds both Mahaney and Leonard, in the moving sexual “I Believe” that ends the impressive first act.
Moritz is played by the passionate Sean McGrory from the East Bay and has a busy Film and TV career. I admire his work at Woodminster Summer Musical and recently for Bay Area Musicals. For this role he creates a sensitive and realistic character as the troubled teen. Belmont adds a clever yo-yo as a prop for McGrory and its subtext is powerful and moving. McGory voice shines in his solo’s including "And Then There Were None" with the Boys and his stunning pop punk song "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind". His keen body language striking edgy moves bring his madness right your seat.
Ilse is played by the stellar LeightAnn Cannon who just completed the acclaimed all female JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Ray of Light Theatre. She is compelling as the teen who returns after leaving the group. She brings a sensitive care to Ilse in the song "The Dark I Know Well" along with Martha played by the stunning Jackie Diaz. Both actors have splendid voices and bring depth to their role, Diaz is on her way to a University in the East Coast to continue her career. Her on stage timing with McGrory in “Don’t Do Sadness” is vibrant and moving.
The two dance core or Greek Chorus are wonderfully performaned by two stunning dancers, the flawless Ronald James and thrilling Helen Wo. Both appear in the company dance numbers including “Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked”. James is a busy Bay Area dancer from DVC who makes his SF debut performing some high kicks and infectious stage hip hop, alongside the multi talented Wo from the world famous Cirque du Soleil.
Hanchen played by the camp Max Seijas recently closed the critically acclaimed BEING BLACK FOR DUMMIES at Custom Made Theatre. Seijas is alongside the polished Earl Paus as Ernst, both are believable as the homosexual couple. Their show stopping reprise of "The Word of Your Body" and not surprising on stage kiss. Paus a member of the honored SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE shows off his accomplished voice and dance talent in “Touch Me”.
Georg played by the exceptional Bryan Munar who is also a busy East Bay actor recently on stage at the award winning CenterRep in Walnut Creek. As the sweet Georg his vocalizations are strong and his popular solo “Touch Me” with Valerie Fachman in the role of the adult women. Munar also a rising talented actor who I hope to see on more San Fransico stages.
Otto is played by the foolproof Jackson Paddock a main stage actor at UCB and member of the BareStage on the Berkeley Campus. I have seen a few Cal musicals including his rocking performance in HEATHERS. Paddock is the perfect character actor and shows off his strong dance skills in “My Junk” along with Stephanie Terrado as Anna. Terrado is a Left Hand Theatre vet, first appearing in REEFER MADNESS and has the perfect passion in the song “I Believe".
The Adult Man and Woman played by the authentic Valerie Fachman and Charles Evans. Both able actors properly texture their various adult roles. Fachman’s German accent as the female teacher, causes some laughter in a play which is anything but humorous. The no nonsense ensemble includes April Deutschle, Danya El-Kurd, Riz Gross, Emily Dwyer and Kat Bautista who also support the theme of the “The Guilty Ones” that opens the second Act.
The craft team includes the eye catching choreography by Diamond Rose and Carle Robinson who kept the cast bouncing in the hit song “Totally Fucked”. Music Director Anthony Osgood has an on stage five member band that actor Bryan Munar sits in from time to time. The Violin holds this score together and Lany de la Campa fills the small 100 seat CounterPulse with the anxed of Duncan Sheik’s score.
Assistant Director Charlie Robinson and stage manager Madison Remigo kept the 20 member cast on cue as every open space in the small black box was used. Remigo also created the light design that I felt at times was a bit too cheery especially in the closing cemetery moment with Melchior. The projections were also limited and underused designed by director Belmont. Tisha Harris costumes are full of character for the girls, layers of colors and aprons, the boys in their school uniforms and knee high socks are very dapper. Fight choreographer Jerome Sadhu keeps the boys rumble thrilling in the second act as Melchior deals with reform school.
Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s brilliant rock score and emotional book bring this story to vibrant life with illuminating sexual tension and passion. The highlight of Belmonts staging are the two shadow dancers that follow the intense emo of both Wendla and Moritz. Wo and James are two professional ballet and movement dancers that brought this SPRING AWAKENING to a new level.
Today over 100 years later, young people still fight for reliable mentors to hear and support them, and without that guidance, young adults, and even younger can enter dark worlds of depression, sexual recklessness, and suicide. SPRING AWAKENING highlights the agelessness of this experience and demands REAL ANSWERS and REAL ACTION. The cast of this production dedicated all their sold out performances to the many local Bay Area actors we have lost to some of these issues including the accomplished Kevin Redrico who many of the cast knew. Left Hand Theatre Company production of SPRING AWAKENING had a short run in August of 2018 and all the performances ended with standing ovations. LHSC plans to stay in San Francisco and will announce their new season soon.
WELCOME TO SF; LEFT HAND THEATRE COMPANY
Left Hand Theatre Company Presents
Book by Steven Sater and Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Alexander Belmont
Music Director, Anthony Osgood
Choreographer, Diamond Rose
August 2018 at CounterPulse Theatre
80 Turk Street San Fran