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Review

THE SHOW:  

Frank Wedekindís controversial play explicitly portraying adolescents dealing with their new sexual desires, as well as violence and abortion, has awoken cries for censorship since its inception. But its musical version by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, opening on Broadway one hundred years after the first production of Wedekindís play debuted in Germany, went on to become a huge hit and earned the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical.  

Of course, more outcries followed the story as it became available to regional theatres, including youth theatres. The show is, indeed, about youth Ė teenagers living in a repressive society where they are still told of baby-toting storks. Where physical and sexual abuse of children is kept hushed. Where adolescents wanting to understand the changes theyíre undergoing and the hormones flooding their bodies, feeling unable to seek advice from those who might best help, are instead forced to rely on whispered rumors and myths. Or on uninformed experimentation. All resulting in confusion, shame, and tragedy. A setting reflecting a small German town in the early 1890s, or perhaps a modern-day suburb near you.  

THE PRODUCTION:  

Directors Graham Jackson and Erica Robson keep their production at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts edgy, daring, and true to the spirit of the show. A few frames hang above the stage through which we see projected paintings, photos, and other images that unobtrusively set the scenes. Nick van Houtenís careful lighting effects set the moods well, and Kathie Bretches-Urbanís nineteenth-century costumes are aesthetically pleasing and complement the characters.  

Those characters are played by LACHSAís immensely talented performers led by Liam Starzyk as the smart, confident, and comparatively worldly high school student Melchior Gabor. Through Liamís performance we see his easygoing confidence crack as biological theory collides with the real-world impact of breaking with societal norms, and the human impact on the sheltered Wendla. Kelsey Smith is terrific as the happy, curious Wendla whose world gets shaken by the ugliness of abuse faced by her friend Martha, and whose nervousness and vulnerability help drive the power of the show as events unfold. She also delivers great vocals whether belting out the rock numbers or her more haunting moments like her solo Whispering. Kelsey and Liam work very well together throughout as their relationship builds.  

Dylan La Rocque is Moritz Stiefel, becoming obsessed with the secret of sex while failing in school. As the pressures drive him to the edge, we feel his growing helplessness. Georgia Mendes is Ilse, former childhood friend who was abused and ran off to live a life with a free-spirited but dangerous sort. Her powerful duet with fellow abuse victim Martha (Katie Powers-Faulk) is one of this productionís great moments, as is her last meeting with Moritz in Donít Do Sadness/Blue Wind.  

Each member of the relatively small cast is superb including the forbidden tension between the assertive but tender Hanschen (Quinn Martin) and the shy Ernst (Joseph Ottavi-Perez), the outrageous and highly expressionable schoolmasters (Vilem Lehmann-Boddicker and Aidan McCollough) or the amusing piano teacher of fantasy (Jennnifer Kaplan), and the very different mothers in the intelligent, gentle, and progressive Frau Gabor (Molly Billman) and the conservative, uneasy Frau Bergman (Jennifer Kaplan). The cast as a whole excels with their dancing, acting, and singing in several well-staged and choreographed numbers, from letting out teenage frustration with adults with rock numbers, dealing with puberty in My Junk and Touch Me, and trying to overcome tragedy in their beautifully poignant final scenes.

Performed December 13 - 15, 2013

Rob Hopper
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Executive Director
National Youth Arts

~ Cast ~ 


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Frau Gabor/Frau Bessell: Molly Billman
Thea: Sarah Colt
Anna: Tessa Debole
Herr Sonnenstitch/Father Kaulbach/Herr Gabor/Schmidt: Sheldon Donenberg
Otto Lammermeier: Jackson Glenn
Herr Stiefel/Herr Rilow/Herr Neumann/Doctor von Brausepulver: Kole Hoffman
Frau Bergman/Fraulein Grossebustenhalter: Jennifer Kaplan
Moritz Stiefel: Dylan La Rocque
Headmaster Knochenbruch: Vilem Lehmann-Boddicker
Hanschen Rilow: Quinn Martin
Fraulein Knuppeldick: Aidan McCollough
Ilse Neumann: Georgia Mendes
Ernst Robel: Joseph Ottavi-Perez
Martha Bessel: Katie Powers-Faulk
Marianna Wheelan: Gaby Ritter
Georg Zirschnitz: Jack Samson
Wendla Bergman: Kelsey Smith
Melchior Gabor: Liam Starzyk

Producer: Gary Soerensen
Lighting Design: Nick van Houten
Costume Design: Kathie Bretches-Urban
Set Design: Amanda Stuart
Sound Design: Emmanuel Munda
Technical Director: Chris Krambo
Student Assistant Director: Catalina Adragna
Student Assistant Choreographer: Kyra Sorce
Student Assistant Musical Director: Molly Billman
Student Stage Manager: Rebecca Bangasser
Stage Crew: Tech Track Class
Program Design: Dana Wayne
Graphic Design: Anna Simpson




   

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