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'Spring Awakening' in Smithtown

Dylan Whelan and Ashley Reyes star in

Dylan Whelan and Ashley Reyes star in "Spring Awakening" at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts through Aug. 20, 2011. Photo Credit: Jessica Nuzzo/

Think of "Spring Awakening" as the 21st century "Romeo and Juliet." Teenagers in love. Adults in denial. Where's the bliss in ignorance? Based on German author Frank Wedekind's 1891 play, the 2007 best musical Tony winner is set to a punk-rock score peppered with searing ballads.

"Spring Awakening" gets its first Long Island run at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts following a pair of ear-popping national tour one-nighters at Staller and Tilles centers this spring.

Smithtown director Ken Washington reduces the decibels by splitting the eight-piece rock band/string quartet. The effect, orchestrated by music director Cara Brown, is to marry 19th century classical pop with intentionally anachronistic rock.

We meet these gender-segregated adolescents through precisely timed choreography by Jamie Capodieci, dressed in Ronald Green's restrictive costumes. Hearts, minds and unmentionable body parts are under inexplicable transformation. Parents refuse to explain. In "Mama Who Bore Me," Wendla, achingly played by Ashley Reyes, begs her mother to tell her how it is that she's an aunt for the second time. No good will come of Mama's insistence that baby-making derives from a woman's exclusive love for her husband.

Frustrated, Wendla asks childhood friend Melchior to beat her so she can feel something -- anything. One pain/pleasure thing leads to another and the facts of life are revealed.

On a parallel track, we meet Melchior's friend Moritz, an underachieving misfit played with self-inflicted rage by Danny Gorman. Moritz's torments, manically expressed in "I Don't Do Sadness," are both scholastic and social. When Melchior illustrates what it is that makes man and woman mates, it blows his mind. And when Moritz flunks an upper-school entrance exam, his father humiliates him.

Dylan Whelan builds on Melchior's quicksand of emotional degradation with progressively eroding optimism. His voice floods our minds with memories of discovery on "Touch" and fits of helplessness on the caught-red-handed song whose title cannot be repeated here.

The supporting younger-generation cast, led by Emily Dowdell and Josh Greenblatt, amplify agony and thwarted ecstasy, while Joan St. Onge and Matt Langen hold the absurd authoritarian line in multiple adult roles.

"Spring Awakening" is a late addition to Smithtown's season. David Henderson's New England-accented set, moodily lit by Chris Creevy and built to accommodate a repertoire run with "Carousel," clashes with the German locale.

Still, it's refreshing to see such appealing, age-appropriate actors in the two leading roles. And so ably supported.

WHAT "Spring Awakening," by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik

 

WHEN | WHERE 8:30 Thursday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 20, Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St.

INFO $18-$30; smithtownpac.org, 631-724-3700

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