‘IT’S A BITCH OF LIVING’ AND TEEN ANGST TAKES STAGE THIS WEEKEND AT THE HISTORIC VICTORIA THEATRE
AN EXCELLENT CAST BRINGS THE ‘SONG OF PURPLE SUMMER’ A NEW GLOW TO ‘SPRING AWAKENING’. DIRECTED BY ELIZA LEONI SHE BRINGS A HANDSOME CRAFTED MUSICAL MORE POWER THAN THE ORIGINAL
Review by Vince Mediaa
Ray of Light Theatre opens their limited season with the Tony honored SPRING AWAKENING for a short run now on stage at the Victoria Theatre only through June 11th. Billed as a concert; the musical is a complete stage version with a live band on stage. Directed by the clever Eliza Leoni and features an amazing cast of Bay Area favorites. “I saw the first national tour of this show in 2008” says Leoni, “I was glued to my seat. As a young shy person who loved musicals, the idea of repressed, careful teens pulling out a microphone to articulate an outrageous inner voice no one else could hear really spoke to me.”
Eliza Leoni’s smart staging includes the drama and angst 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 emotions with heart wrenching – and sometimes deadly – results.
Wendla is played by the compelling Becky Alex who is currently a student at NYU. Her on point voice is powerful in the opening number “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Whispering”. Alex’s pitch perfect sound brings all the teens struggles to her role as the curious teenager and she is properly naïve and tender as Wendla. She shows her standout acting and flawless voice during the solo “The World of You Body” with Melchior.
Melchior - the lead male is played by the keen Seth Hanson, who at times struggled in the role. Hanson is a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and his voice will only get better. His many solo’s including "All That's Known" and "The Mirror-Blue Night". Hanson proves his strong vocals and acting and is truly the rising star on San Francisco stages. The company surrounds both Hanson and Alex, in the moving sexual “I Believe” that ends the impressive first act.
Moritz is played by the passionate Matt Herrero who played the role in the past while he attended Stanford University. Herrero creates a sensitive and realistic character as the troubled teen. Herrero kept his long hair braided as an eccentric expression to balance Sane Ray's costume of gray tones and ripped emotions. Herrero's voice shines in his solo’s including "And Then There Were None" with the Boys and his stunning pop punk song "A Bitch of Living". His keen body language striking edgy moves bring his madness right to your seat.
Ilse is played by the stellar Kimi Galang Villegas, a UC Berkeley Theatre and Dance grad. She is compelling as a 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 Maia Campbell. Both actors have elegant voices and bring depth to their roles.
Hanchen is played by the confident Zachary Isen who is a ROLT vet who shows off his engrossing voice in the song “My Junk”. Isen is alongside the polished Ryan Vasquez 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. Vasquez, a grad of AAU, is also active at NCTC and Brava Theatre. He shows off his accomplished voice and dance talent in “Touch Me”.
Georg is played by the exceptional Ted Sclavos who has the best voice in this cast of 15 talented actors. As the sweet Georg his vocalizations are strong and his popular solo “Touch Me” with local favorite Jessica Coker Mohr in the role of the adult woman.
Otto is played by the foolproof Kyle Laplana who I have seen in a few back to back local productions featuring his riveting voice including RENT and SPONGEBOB. Laplana is the perfect character actor and shows off his strong dance skills in “My Junk” along with Hailey Mogul as Anna. Under Ben Prince's beautiful music direction she has the perfect passion in the song “I Believe". Princes on stage seven member band includes some exquisite strings so important to Duncan Sheiks original score. Lucy Atkinson, Denisse Morales on Violin, Kelly Wong on Viola and Casey Quon on Cello. “I Believe” that closes the first act is brilliant under these strings and Prince's direction.
The Adult Man and Woman played by the priceless Jessica Coker Mohr and Andy Collins. Both able actors properly texture their various adult roles. Mohr’s German accent as the female teacher, causes some laughter in a play which is anything but humorous. The no nonsense ensemble also includes Lili Argüello, Dylan Crump, Kira Findling and Maia Campbell who also support the theme of the “I Believe” that features the entire company.
The craft team includes the eye-catching choreography by Jill Jacobs who kept the male cast bouncing in the hit song “The Bitch of Living”. Assistant Director Jenn Bevard and stage manager busy Lori Fowler kept the 15 member cast on cue as every open space on Matt Owens busy set was used. Shi’s rich light design peered through the fog filled stage and her back lighting crowning of the leads silhouettes. Shane Ray’s costumes are full of character for the girls, layers of gray tones and aprons, the boys in their school uniforms and knee high socks are very dapper. The fit is “uniform and character specific”. Intimacy and Fight choreographer Zoe Swenson Graham kept the boys' rumble thrilling as Melchior deals with failing school. Props by Matt Owen include books and pads for the boys and switches that take the story to dark moments. The sound design by Sharon Boggs was clear except during “The Bitch of Living” I could not make out the lyrics.
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 Leoni’s staging include bringing the action down stage and the intense emo of both Wendla and Moritz. Jacobs movement and dance that brought this SPRING AWAKENING to a new level and honored the original choreography. This was not a concert but a well crafted staging of this important musical.
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. I would like to dedicate this excellent production and all their sold out performances to the many local Bay Area actors we have lost to some of these issues. Up next at ROLT is CRUEL INTENTIONS the 90’s Musical that opens Sept 8th. ROCKY HORROR SHOW immersive production opens Oct 6th at the Oasis. But in the meantime do what you can see this spellbinding SPRING AWAKENING - it closed Sunday June 11th.
Ray of Light Theatre Presents
Book by Steven Sater and Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Eliza Leoni
Music Director Ben Price
Choreographer Jill Jacobs
Vocal Director: Jad Bernardo
CLOSED JUNE 11TH
The Victoria Theatre
2961 16th Street San Francisco Ca
2 hours with a 15 min intermission
Photos by Erik Scanlon
Melchior: Seth Hanson -
Wendla: Becky Alex -
Moritz: Matt Herrero -
Ilse: Kimi Galang Villegas -
Hanschen: Zachary Isen -
Martha: Maia Campbell
Ernst: Ryan Vasquez -
Anna: Hailey Mogul -
Georg: Ted Sclavos -
Thea: Lili Argüello -
Otto: Kyle Laplana -
Frieda: Kira Findling -
Fritz: Dylan Crump -
Adult Women: Jessica Coker Mohr
Adult Men: Andy Collins
Director: Eliza Leoni
MD: Ben Prince
Vocal Director: Jad Bernardo
Choreo: Jill Jacobs
Technical Director/Set Design: Matt Owens
Lighting Designer: Weili Shi
Costumes: Shane Ray
Stage Manager: Lori Fowler
Production Manager: Jenn Bevard
Sound Design: Sharon Bogg