It's been a while since Spring Awakening was last seen in London. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's musical followed its Broadway debut in 2006 with a limited run in the West End in 2009. Now, 12 years later it's back and (spoiler alert) it might just be better than ever.
For this brand new production at the Almeida theatre, the rulebook has been ripped up and the show started from scratch. Directed by Rupert Goold, changes include a song from the off Broadway production that had previously been cut before it opened on Broadway being reinstated as well as various changes throughout that make this feel like a brand new show.
Full disclosure - I have always loved Spring Awakening. The West End run stays fond in my memories so the idea of a new production coming along and being drastically different should offend me to my core. However, I found myself gobsmacked at this version... for all the right reasons!
As reputable as the Almeida is, I wasn't expecting much staging wise from such a small space so I was pleasantly surprised to see how much they did with what looked like a plain staircase desuigned by Miriam Buether. Clever use of video projections from Finn Ross and even turning it into a blackboard at one point, the set was full of surprises and felt befitting of a much larger space. New choreography from Lynne Page is simply wonderful and is one of the aspects that makes this production of Spring Awakening feel brand new.
A great show needs a great cast and the group of young performers on hand to deliver this are exceptional. Laurie Kynaston is charming as Melchior, forming a formidable double act wioth love interest Wendla, who is played by the fantastic Amara Okereke. They each get moments to shine, but it is when the pair play off eachother on stage that the magic really comes alive. Catherine Cusack and Mark Lockyer are brilliantly versatile as they play the varying adult characters in the show, with one moment where Mark seamlessly transforms from a traumatic and emotional moment into comedy a testament to the genius of this cast and the production itself.
Spring Awakening can be seen as an ensemble piece with most of the characters getting the spotlight on them at one time. In that respect, there really is no weak link in the cast. However, I do need to single out Stuart Thompson who is a total revelation as Moritz. Perhaps having the biggest challenge of anyone, Stuart channels the dark complexities Moritz is experiencing with real authenticity, culminating in the most heartbreaking moment I have ever seen played out on the stage. A good Spring Awakening needs a good Moritz and in Stuart Thompson they have found the best.
Whether you are familiar with the music in this show or not, the songs will stay with you long after the show has finished. From show opener 'Mama Who Bore Me' to the devastating 'Left Behind', the smart lyrics and beautiful instrumentations are brought to life by a group of fantastic musicians, led by Musical Diredtor Jo Cichonska. Some of the songs have new life injected into them through new arrangements - none more so than showstopping standout 'Totally F***ed'. An iconic moment in itself, from the opening note I realised this was going to be like no version of the song I had seen before. What followed was an explosive performance that highlighted the rebellious nature of the group and channeled more punk rock than I had seen in this show before. To say my jaw was on the floor during this performance would be an understatement. Undoubtedly the highlight of the entire production and one of the single best performances I have seen this year.
This version of Spring Awakening is one I can't fault at all. Bringing new life into an already fantastic show, it has never looked or sounded better. With an incredible cast performing with the urgency and frantic energy befitting of such a show, this could go down to become the definitive version of Spring Awakening. It may be playing for a limited season at the Almeida but a show like this deserves to have a much longer life.
Spring Awakening plays at the Almeida Theatre until January 22nd 2022. Tickets available from https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/spring-awakening/2-dec-2021-22-jan-2022