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UC Davis Spring Awakening 2013

Image by UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance

The UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance, under the direction of Granada Artist-in-Residence Stafford Arima, presented a limited engagement of Spring Awakening (November 21 through December 7) to the community of Davis. Spring Awakening, a rock musical featuring music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, tells the story of teenagers discovering their sexualities in 19th century Germany. Among the navigation of self-discovery, Spring Awakening also touches upon the subject of morality, child abuse, abortion, and suicide. The UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance presented an excellent adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical, of course adding small theatrical additions to its production and score that enhanced the overall performance. With a dynamic group of cast members, complemented with excellent stage and costume designs, Spring Awakening delivered an unmeasurable experience ideal for its university audience.

Having seen the closing Broadway show at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre in New York City, as well as the first touring production at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, I was eager to see what UC Davis could bring to the table. The show begins with a twist: students wearing clothes ranging from different eras muttering emotional narratives. This isn’t part of the original play, but Arima was smart in delivering the notion that these controversial topics-morality, child abuse, suicide, etc-are very much prevalent in society today. Jessica Walsh and Elio Gutierrez, who play main characters Wendla and Moritz, shine throughout the show, delivering a performance that is of Broadway caliber. While Walsh’s sweet innocent voice entrances you, Gutierrez’s deep soulful voice with stunning vibrato captivates you. Both actors keep you on the edge of your seat. All actors played amazing parts, and there wasn’t a time where they broke character or fell short of emotion. Krizzia Manlangit, who played Marta, is a powerhouse of an artist. Manlangit was definitely my favorite singer, as her adaptation of “The Dark I Know Well” tops that of Lily Cooper’s (Broadway’s original Marta). You could feel the emotion, the fear, and the pain in her voice and her facial expressions-simply amazing. “The Bitch of Living” was amongst my favorite numbers. Although the balance of harmonies fell a bit short from the soft falsettos, the choreography was impeccable and definitely better than its Broadway counterpart. Ending the musical with “Song of Purple Summer” was enlightening, as each actor disappeared behind the fog and brightly-lit stage as if the actors were ascending into heaven.

John Iacovelli, an Emmy-Award winning artist, designed a fantastic set piece for Spring Awakening. A multi-tiered platform, similar to scaffoldings, provides a range of views for the audience and allows the actors to fully take advantage of the space. It brought more light to the stage and more depth of field.
It’s no wonder that the department sold out most of its show, up to 470 seats in the auditorium at Wright Hall. Stafford Arima brought to the stage a show that anyone can relate to and a show that highlights each individual talent- from actors, singers, production designers, costume designers, and stage managers. With a few more quarters left at UC Davis, we are all eager to see what Arima brings to the stage next.

-Chris W. Hong