Having seen Spring Awakening before, back in 2008 at the Balboa Theater, it doesn't seem as fresh or startling as it was upon first exposure. But Cygnet Theatre's new production of the musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, based on Frank Wedekind's late-1890s play, has lost none of its urgency. This is a spirited but dark work about both repression and oppression, a daring cautionary tale for its time.
The awakening of the young to the lure of their sexuality can be an uneasy one, especially if you happen to be young and awakening in 1891. It can, the German author Wedekind wrote, end in tragedy. Sater and Sheik's modern-day language and blistering rock score (intermingled with haunting ballads) have reminded audiences from Broadway to Old Town that if the old morals no longer apply in and of themselves, there remain narrow minds who would enforce them to the point of pain, or worse.
Cygnet's Sean Murray directs this production in all its vigor and sensitivity. Dave Thomas Brown (as Melchior) and Taylor Aldrich (as Wendla) portray the new lovers for whom the sweetness of discovery is destined for cruel separation and pain. Aldrich, making her Cygnet debut, is a shining, deeply sympathetic presence. Charles Evans Jr., as tormented Moritz, and Katy Tang, as Ilse (both also making their Cygnet debuts), give aching, robust performances, as well. The six-piece band behind the vocals, conducted by Terry O'Donnell, provides the precise balance between muscle (as on the show standard "The Bitch of Living" and the crowd-pleasing, and crowd-shocking to some, "Totally Fucked") and the tenderness that befits Spring Awakening's balladry.
Spring Awakening is a frank, unfettered examination of not only sexual curiosity and emergence but also child abuse, homosexuality and abortion (circa 1891). Even with Sheik's pop-rock score and Sater's contemporary candor, those themes are just as critical.
We are on the threshold of spring 2014, and perhaps it's an apt time to remember that, when it comes to the young in particular, discovery is such an important part of life and that intolerance in the name of protecting them from discoveries can do worse than any truths they may find.
Spring Awakening runs through April 27 at the Old Town Theatre. $39-$59. cygnettheatre.com
And the World Goes 'Round: A staged revue of the music of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, who gave us the songs from Cabaret, New York, New York and Chicago. Presented by Moonlight Stage Productions, it opens March 20 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Cats: Which feline in the Jellicle tribe will be chosen to be reborn into a new life in the Heaviside Layer? Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens March 21 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Quilters: A musical about the lives of pioneer women in the American Old West. Opens March 21 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Gin Game: Two nursing-home residents engage in psychological warfare as they battle in games of gin rummy. Opens March 21 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Other Desert Cities: This is a staged reading of a play about a novelist who visits her famous parents in Palm Springs amid her plans to publish a memoir that will unearth an unpleasant family secret. It happens March 23 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Boys and Girls: West Coast premiere of a play that tracks a couple of years in the lives of two pairs of people who grapple with their relationships and the prospects of same-sex parenthood. Through March 23 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
The School for Lies: A period (17th century) adaptation of Molière's The Misanthrope tells the story of a surly French hater who falls for an acid-tongued young woman. Through March 23 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Edgar & Annabel and Far Away: Ion Theatre is producing a double bill of short plays each night through March 29: Edgar & Annabel, a paranoid thriller about a couple of spies, and Far Away, a dystopian, wartime drama set in factory where hats are made for grim purposes. Through March 29 at BLK BOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change: A musical series of vignettes about love and relationships. Through April 6 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Spring Awakening: That awakening is a sexual one, experienced by young adults in a small German town, set to music by Duncan Sheik. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens runs through April 27 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The 39 Steps: This is a return engagement of a comedic, four-actor stage version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, as if performed by Monty Python, with lots of allusions to other Hitchcock classics. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it's ongoing at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net