Surging teenage hormones, curiosity about sex and impulsive choices leading to tragic outcomes—that’s the thumbnail summary of Spring Awakening, the indie-rock musical (incongruously set in a stiff, authoritarian German prep school in the 1890s), that collected eight Tony Awards in 2006.
Spring Awakening drew a chilly reaction from certain Broadway Sacramento subscribers when a touring production visited in 2009; some elders in the audience were put off by the electric score, winced at the F-bombs, disliked the front-and-center sex scene at the close of Act I and departed during intermission.
But the current production by the UC Davis Theatre and Dance Department is packing in audiences; some performances have sold out the 470-seat venue. This is mostly because the show was always intended primarily for 20-somethings, so an audience top-heavy with undergrads (including a few still in their teens) is ideal.
Visiting director Stafford Arima (who’s piloted Broadway shows in addition to Music Circus productions here in River City) offers a somewhat different take on the material. In the touring production, the show felt like a string of semi-linked scenes staged largely for jarring effect; Arima focuses on the arc of this dark story, which unfolds in a more visually comprehensible form (and with less bare flesh) than the tour. All in all, Arima’s is the superior version.
The cast ranges from Master of Fine Arts candidates (who are basically professionals) to undergrads (some theater majors, others studying other disciplines). Musical director Erik Daniells, who’s handled several shows in Sacramento, gets a good sound from his band. Costumes (Maggie Morgan), lighting (Michael Palumbo) and scenic design (John Iacovelli) are professional, and take advantage of the Main Theatre’s overhead spaciousness.