‘Spring Awakening’ blossoms at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — “Spring Awakening” is a great show for college theater programs.

There are plenty of roles for young actors so the students can play characters close to their ages, and it has a contemporary score by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik that gives those students an opportunity to display their talents.

The Ford Theater stage was filled with talented performers for the opening night of Youngstown State University Theater’s production of the show that won eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical.

Director C. Austin Hill’s staging and the cast really shine in the ensemble numbers. The harmonies and the blend of voices on the finale “The Song of Purple Summer” was exquisite.

The full cast adds energy to Mason Edmunds’s forceful rendition of the second act song with a title I can’t print here. And songs like “My Junk” and “The Guilty Ones” stand out because of the way the performers work together as a unit.

Those songs are woven through a story based on a play written by Frank Wedekind in the 1890s about German teens discovering their sexuality without the information or understanding to realize the consequences of their actions. Parents, in an effort to shelter and protect, leave them ill-equipped to deal with the realities of their lives and emotions.

It’s a show about young teenagers that deals frankly with sexuality, masturbation, sexual assault, suicide and other topics that may make some viewers uncomfortable. Hill avoids the glimpses of nudity that were a part of the Broadway staging, but he doesn’t diminish the raw emotion that is a part of the drama.

The set design by Todd Dicken is simple but effective, easily adapting from the realistic dramatic sequences to the more fantasy-like musical numbers. And I liked how the poles and the thick clotheslines that ran from them caught and reflected the colored lights used in those musical sequences.

The seven-piece band led by music director Ian LeRoy was positioned at the back of the stage and provided excellent accompaniment. The band added the necessary oomph to the rock-inspired score without overwhelming the vocalists.

Leah Tekac stood out among the vocalists as Wendla. She was stunning from the opening notes of “Mama Who Bore Me” and continued to impress throughout the night. Also impressive was Jessica Hirsh as Ilse on “The Dark I Know Well” and leading “The Song of Purple Summer.”

Among the men, Edmunds commanded attention as the rebellious Melchior, and Ben Mowrer brought energy and a hint of manipulative menace to Hanschen.

“Spring Awakening” tells its story from the perspective of youth, but Brooke Nobbs and Nathan Wagner deserve mention for handling all of the adult roles and creating distinctive personalities for different characters who serve similar functions.

YSU had a good crowd for opening night, but the theater wasn’t at capacity, which was kind of surprising considering the popularity of the musical. And this show deserves a full house.