|“Spring Awakeming” is a Tony Award-winning musical. (Photo courtesy of www.fudgetheatre.com)
“Spring Awakening” sings out the pleasure and pain of adolescence, but so does Kira Cowan in dance.
As Cowan explained in a brief recent interview, the 25-year-old, African American Emerson graduate and Jamaica Plain resident — together with three fellow ensemble performers — is “giving a visual representation of their angst and their inner feelings.”
Based on a still timely 1890 Franz Wedekind play of the same name with the telling subtitle “A Children’s Tragedy,” this Tony Award–winning musical rocked Broadway with its unflinching portrait of the challenges of childhood. Ambitious young F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company, which has returned to Watertown’s Arsenal Center for the Arts, has added an inspired dance take to this tuneful yet trenchant work.
The original New York production of the Steven Sater-Duncan Sheik musical, Cowan noted, telegraphed the conflicts and struggles challenging its adolescents with the aid of microphones that amplified their respective emotional odysseys.
F.U.D.G.E. director-choreographer Joe DeMita, Cowan explained, “has replaced the microphones with the ensemble dance.”
In that ensemble, Cowan gets to perform ballet and modern dance representations of tough lyrics and scenes about the experiences of childhood — the awakenings of puberty, the disturbing realities of abuse and the damage of family disconnection when adults cannot talk honestly about sexuality.
Her standout moves include an exquisite arabesque and strong circle evocations with her hands — the latter often when the songs and scenes deal with cycles of parental pressure and puritanical coldness at home and at school.
DeMita has staged the entire production with this kind of inspired direction. Music director Steven Bergman has his musicians play the louder rock numbers such as “Bitch of Living” energetically but without drowning out insightful lyrics.
Girl ensembles — notably for the early folk-rock combination of “Mama Who Bore Me” — and boy ensembles — especially on the “Living “ number — stand out with pulsating stomps and kicks.
DeMita proves a triple threat as scenic designer, with a spare but effective set that turns a ramp into a flower-adorned tombstone. His design includes a number of long robes that serve as symbols of entanglement one moment and become representations of suicidal thought or romantic swinging at others.
The large cast is convincing in song and characterization with few exceptions. Jared Walsh nicely combines independent thinker Melchior’s brave acceptance of his own awakening and a Hamlet-like consideration of the pros and cons of living.
Alaina Fragoso could project more as Melchior’s girlfriend in the early singing, but her portrayal has all of her character’s sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Ben Sharton as confused and misunderstood Moritz sings robustly — especially on his signature song “Don’t Do Sadness — and proves heart-wrenchingly moving.
Other standouts include Brian Vaughan Martel’s properly insinuating and domineering turn as gay adolescent Hanschen and Lori L’Italien as abused Martha. Veteran actors Jim Fitzpatrick and Linda Goetz make each of the adults they portray — whether parent, teacher or religious leader — vivid and distinct.
F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company is pledged to “introducing new and seldom–done works” in the Hub. Thanks to talents like Cowan, DeMita and a fine ensemble, “Spring Awakening” truly blossomed at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.