It was just a day or so ago that ReVision Theatre Company rang down the invisible curtain on their production of Xanadu — the light ‘n lively, fun and frothy, poppy, peppy, wacky, wink-y opener to a new season of musical entertainments at Asbury Park’s historic Carousel House.
Comes the first weekend in August, and it’s like Spring has sprung inside the rococo roundhouse performance space at the south end of the Boardwalk. Specifically, Spring Awakening — a show that, to the uninitiated, sounds like a regular frolic in the park in the merry month of May.
Take a closer look at the 2007 Tony winner for Best Musical (and its 1891 source play, a script by Frank Wedekind that has frequently found itself the subject of bans and boycotts) and you’ll find an ensemble coming-of-age saga that’s infinitely more dark, edgy, passionate and heartbreakingly, scrupulously honest than the umpteenth Community Players revival of Grease.
Set in late 19th century Germany, it’s a tumultuous piece — set to an alt-rock score by Duncan Sheik with book and lyrics by Steven Sater — in which a group of fast-maturing young people rebel against the stodgy strictures of an obsolete education system and clueless parents; obsessing each step of the way about sex sex sex. Characters tumble into first sexual experiences, indulge in erotic fantasies, engage in reckless experiments in sadomasochism, confess histories of abuse, attempt suicide, encounter back-alley abortionists and break into songs with names like “My Junk,” “The Bitch of Living,” and “Totally Fucked.”
In other words, not exactly fodder for the school drama club or those aforementioned Community Players — but any residual shock value aside, Spring Awakening is a timeless tale of yearning, frustration, curiosity, connection and escape that transcends its sepia-toned 19th century setting, proving conclusively that postwar America never held a monopoly or a patent on teen rebellion. So, despite the Tonys (eight in all) and the smash productions on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s a show whose inaugural NJ production is best entrusted to the ReVision team.
For the engagement that previews on Thursday, August 4 and opens the following Friday night, the ReVees have once again secured the services of a friend and frequent collaborator — Carlos Armesto, artistic director of New York-based theatre C and a director whose previous endeavors in Asbury Park have included ReVision’s Kingdom and The Who’s TOMMY. He’s working with a cast that’s toplined by member of the Spring Awakening National Tour company — Billy Lewis, whose appearance here as the angry, passionate student Melchior overlapped with his stint in the cast of Xanadu. Also in the cast of twelve are Elena Ricardo, Noah Zachary, Hannah Shankman and Travis Mitchell, another veteran of the show’s National Tour. Elisabetta Spuria returns to ReVision as choreographer, and the rock-driven pit band is once more skippered by Michael Thomas Murray.
We caught up with director Armesto during rehearsals at downtown Asbury’s VFW hall (where Kingdom was staged to great acclaim in 2009); flip the pixelated page for more.