By Olivia Popp
Tucked away in the heart of North Hollywood is Cupcake Theater, which recently produced the iconic coming-of-age rock musical “Spring Awakening.” Based on the 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, “Spring Awakening” tells of adolescents who explore and begin to discover the extents of their sexuality in a suppressed environment of late 19th-century Germany. The young women, helmed by Wendla (Mandie Hittleman), fawn over the charming Melchior (Evan Marshal) — while the men such as Georg (Rehyan Rivera) and Moritz (Thomas Adoue Polk) have fantasies about other women, or, in the case of Hänschen (Daniel Bruington), men.
Cupcake Theater is an intimate space with leveled seating — hardly the space one would imagine for a full-scale musical. However, director Madeleine Heil pulls it off, with a tall platform in the back, a bed on the very stage right side of the stage and a rolling staircase. At its core, “Spring Awakening” is a haunting musical, and putting the characters’ struggles directly in front of the audiences’ faces is one technique to jump right to the gun. Strong musical performances by Hittleman, Marshall and Polk, highlighted in numbers including “The Bitch of Living,” “Touch Me” and “Totally Fucked” — along with a particularly notable rendition of “The Dark I Know Well” performed by Amber France (Martha) and Lindsay Pearce (Ilse) — cemented the theater’s production of “Spring Awakening” as uniquely clean in the small space. However, the production was somewhat held back by the occasional lackluster acting — with so many actors in the space at once, fatigue and a close range to the audience allows each and every misstep to stand out — if one actor isn’t in the performance, then it takes you out of it entirely.
While it is often difficult to quickly and effectively distinguish between characters double by actors, especially when the characters are so similar in nature, the performances in “Spring Awakening” had no trouble. Kristen DJ Robinson (all the Adult Women) and Danny Gurerro (all the Adult Men) were distinctly memorable, changing from nice to cruel in a matter of minutes between characters and a simple costume swap. Robinson and Gurerro added pleasant comedic touches with the pronunciation of “Herr Knochenbruch” and “Fräulein Knuppeldick” — enough to last the whole show, arguably without the added humorous taste of the first scene in Cupcake Theater’s production, which detracted from the heavier introduction of the first scene and Wendla.
It’s often fun to go out of one’s way to watch regional theater. Every performance is different, and there’s something about a small space that brings new life to a production, especially a famous one. Cupcake Theater’s “Spring Awakening” was no small feat, and the cast’s performance of “Song of Purple Summer” — partially sung directly to the audience, seemingly combined with the curtain call — was a devastatingly haunting reminder of the loss of adolescence and the beauty of “Spring Awakening.”
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.