CCM’s Masterful “Spring Awakening”

The University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s production of Spring Awakening is one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have ever had the honor to see.

Review by Adam Schwartz

The University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s production of Spring Awakening is one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have ever had the honor to see. I am currently sitting here recovering, wondering how to capture this amazing performance in words.

Background for Spring Awakening

The source material, from the late 19th century, is as relevant today as ever. In 1891 Frank Wedekind wrote one of the most foundational pieces of modern theatre ever written, Spring Awakening. This musical could have been written today or 10 years ago, or I would even wager, 100 years in the future. Steven Sater is the lyricist and writer for this Spring Awakening, which conquered Broadway 2006-2009. Music is by Duncan Sheik. The themes and message of this show are universal, and I found myself going through a varied range of emotions while watching CCM’s masterful production unfurl itself before me.

The Story

The plot of Spring Awakening is in many ways, timeless. Set in a small German town, the young teens of said town are suddenly awoken to the wonders of the body, the mind, and the heart. To foil this exploration of the self (and others) are the ultra-puritanical and demanding adults of this town ranging from prudish mothers and abusive fathers to didactic teachers and single minded administrators. The main lovers in this tragedy are Wendla, played by Grace Rusnica, and Melchior, played by Declan Smith. Their romance is surrounded by a whole host of intertwining and intersecting tragedies and at times comedies. I don’t want to go into too much detail as to do so would ruin some crucial and truly heart wrenching plot points. 

The Production

The acting and singing in this production are absolutely top notch. This is my first CCM production and I am more than impressed–I am utterly speechless. The way that the cast is able to effortlessly highlight each voice in the ensemble while also blending together is better than some professional touring productions I have seen at the Aronoff. The acting in this show is so masterful that at times, due to the intimate nature of this performance I wanted to go on to the stage and console the actors directly as their emotions are nothing but true and raw and vulnerable.

The performance to highlight is August Bagg in the role of Mortiz, a stressed, burnt out, sexually confused, anxious, and all too relatable student. Moritz is informed that he will not be able to continue on with his schooling due to a slightly less than satisfactory performance. His line delivery and overall stage presence makes him one of the biggest performers on the stage while also emphasizing how small Moritz felt throughout the story. It is clear that Bagg has a bright bright future ahead of him and I look forward to seeing his career skyrocket. 

The Creative Team for Spring Awakening

A show like Spring Awakening could be bombastic with its production design, but not this production. This production highlights the actors marvelously. A bare bones set (Charlie Calvert) of wooden platforms with simple reeds and meadow flowers are on all three sides of the stage to give the sense of the countryside without distracting from the performances. The lighting (Kristen Peck) punctuates the rock soundtrack in such a way that it felt like I was at a mid-2000’s punk rock concert, but if that concert was in the German country-side. The choreography (Jess Zylstra) similarly flows with the story and acting and music in an effortless manner. Julie Spangler is the musical director responsible for the amazing harmonies and orchestra. All of this being helmed by director Hannah Ryan, a guest artist at CCM. 

Bottom Line

Spring Awakening is one of the most powerful pieces of modern musical theatre. CCM delivers a show whose message is a poignant as it has ever been. If you have anything going on this weekend, cancel those plans and go and see this show. You will feel things you have not felt in a long time.

Tickets for Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening is running from April 13th-16th at the Cohen Family Studio Theatre at UC’s College Conservatory of Music. The show is sold out, but contact or show up at the CCM Box Office (513) 556-4183 for any opportunity to see the show.

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