David Dodd 1:48 a.m., May 18
I can only review half of American Rose's production, since the company has double-cast the musical: the "Red Cast" (high school age) and the "White Cast" (college age) alternate evenings, along with graduates of SDSU in both versions. I saw the high school group, which has actors the same age as the characters. They cut to the core of what has become one of my favorite musicals.
Based on Frank Wedekind's drama, the title is a not too subtle metaphor for sexual awakening. It's Germany, 1891, and according to anyone in authority, sex doesn't exist. Babies come from storks and "love." Adolescents floundering in hormones and "sticky dreams" confront an overwhelming mystery: just what is nature doing to me NOW?
The more they fumble and probe, the more timb-bomb they become. And the more those in power stifle their energy. Eventually the teens explode into songs of rage: "The Bitch of Living" and (as printed in the program) "Totally F****d." To them "there is no sleep in heaven, or Bethlehem." In the end, questioning Wendla and sex-stifled Mortiz pay the ultimate price.
The musical is both of the period - Janet Pitcher's costumes include frumpy frocks for the girls, and school uniforms for the boys - and contemporary: rock-influenced music and themes of abuse and teenage suicide.
Some directorial choices don't work: cartooning the adults gives the teens less to fight against: and fussy business with a stand-up mic, which may be symbolic but takes too much time to move around. Most of director Ira Bauer-Spector's other choices do. He has the cast sit in the audience. They drift on and off in always fluid, kaleidoscopic patterns.
Fifteen-year-old Ian Brinistool, who won a Craig Noel Award in 2009, heads the cast as Melchior and gets all the perplexity, and slender hope, in the character (Kevin Koppman-Gue, another young standout, plays Melchior in the college group). Elizabeth Morse and Dylan Hoffinger excel as the tragic figures Wendla and Mortiz.
Krysti Litt, Kelly Prendergast, and Meagan Pitcher (the latter two in a stirring rendition of "(There's a Part I Can't Tell) In the Dark I Know Well"), make valuable contributions.
Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown, through November 6; Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 7:30. Sunday at 6:30. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-544-1000. For directions and a map see the theater listings.