February 17, 2012

One Of The Best Shows I've Ever Seen

I watched Pangdemonium's Spring Awakening on 16 February, and as the blog title states, it was AWESOME!

And just so I don't forget - a couple who attended the show with me have seen the Broadway and national U.S. tour versions, and agree that this local production is most impressive.

I will forever regret missing the chance to catch the original Broadway cast in late 2007 ( ARGH! ), but fell in love with the unbelievably amazing soundtrack long before I knew anything about the musical itself. Despite being way out of my taste range, there was something undeniably profound about every number. The melodies and lyrics are beautiful, but the angst is positively gut-wrenching. I was hypnotized. Still am after 4 years.

So when Pangdemonium confirmed plans for a local staging, I couldn't stay away, but was also apprehensive about the possibility of disappointment.

Suffice to say, the result was, in my opinion, nothing short of perfect. I stress "in my opinion", since I've read a couple of mixed reviews. However, considering my extremely high expectations and obsession with the cast recording, I would've been satisfied with a decent enough interpretation.

So yes, my mind was completely blown by the experience! 2 weeks after opening night, the technical glitches mentioned in hikaru's review were absent, and the theatre packed with an appreciative audience.

First, I'd like to applaud the excellent leads, Julia Abueva (Wendla ) and Nathan Hartono ( Melchior ), for their truly exquisite vocals and strong acting. I've seen Julia perform 3 times so far - as part of the Prodigies Of The World lineup a couple of years ago, then at David Foster's 2011 gig - and she continues to improve and mature. Every note she delivered was pitch-perfect and overflowing with emotion.
I'd never heard Nathan before, and what a wonderful surprise he is! His vocal performance is OUTSTANDING, and I swear, he sounds almost identical to Jonathan Groff ( from the original Broadway cast ). It was surreal, sitting there staring at a young Asian guy and hearing Groff's voice. I loved it! :D

Acting-wise, I was immensely moved by both. 20-year-old Nathan shows serious skills in his theatrical debut, handling the demands of the script with great aplomb.
But 16-year-old Julia deserves massive kudos for bravely taking on a role which would've crumbled in the hands of someone less able. There're a couple of scenes designed specifically to make you squirm, and I admire her for tackling them fearlessly.

Standout moments: for Julia, her poignant delivery of Whispering, which was dazzling!
For Nathan, his rendition of Left Behind was flawless, and moved me to tears. A middle-aged man a few rows in front also kept dabbing at his face. After the show, my mum admitted she was reduced to a weeping blob of jelly. Wow, go Nathan! :)

The other cast members are also exceptional, in particular, Eden Ang, who plays Moritz. He has the luxury of landing a juicy role - full of humour, turmoil and tragedy - and proves himself worthy to the challenge. His performance was electrifying in every way!

Kudos to the rest as well, especially during the group numbers. The Bitch Of Living, And Then There Were None and Totally F***ed pulsated with aggression, while Touch Me ( my favourite track on the Broadway cast recording ) burst with raging hormones and teenage longing.

When the finale - The Song Of Purple Summer - began, I felt a sad smile creep across my face. A bittersweet farewell indeed, and I honestly didn't want the show to end.

I am in awe of Tracie Pang, who directed this breath-taking production. I'm sure her duties are countless, but her greatest achievement has got to be drawing such spellbinding performances from the actors, especially Julia and Nathan, who had me hypnotized from beginning to end.

And special mention to Bill Calhoun and Amanda Colliver - listed as choreography director and vocal coach respectively. The group numbers are fabulous, and the vocal standards truly sensational.

And lest you doubt the veracity of my bold statements, I'm not merely comparing this to the Spring Awakening cast recording ( which I know like the back of my hand ), or other local / Asian productions. I have the happiest memories of other first-rate Broadway musicals I was fortunate enough to attend, from Jersey Boys ( original Tony-winning cast ) and Follies ( Broadway legend Bernadette Peters ), to How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying ( Daniel Radcliffe and Tony winner John Laroquette ) and Phantom Of The Opera ( starring hugh Panaro, touted as one of the best Phantoms ever - p.s. I agree! ).

If you think local theatre can't compare to New York's best, you're wrong. Pangdemonium's efforts have exceeded all my expectations, and I am hungry for more!

As Adrian Pang said in his post-show address, ticket sales can make or break a production, so please spread the word. I absolutely LOVE this musical, and encourage anyone who's game to go see it before the run ends on 26 February.

Hopefully, there'll be a restaging - on a larger scale perhaps? - in the not-too-distant future, at the Esplanade Theatre, where the acoustics will do the songs and vocalists the justice they deserve.

And yes, the current cast should definitely return for the encore!

To purchase tickets, go to SISTIC.

To digress a little, rumours are swirling that a Hollywood movie adaptation is in the pipeline, with Lea Michele in talks to reprise her role as Wendla. Let's hope Jonathan Groff will come on board as well - yes, he's gay, but this is the role that propelled him to stardom and earned him a Tony Award nomination. Plus, I've met him and he is HOT. :)

Pangdemonium's next production is Swimming With Sharks, opening in September. I don't have access to a synopsis yet, but from the looks of the publicity shot, it's most likely going to be similar to the film which stars Kevin Spacey.

Like Spring Awakening, Sharks is near and dear to my heart. Kevin Spacey is my all-time favourite actor, and Buddy Ackerman one of his best roles ever.

This time, however, I will attend the play with no apprehension at all. Because I know what Pangdemonium is capable of.

Congratulations on a job well done! :)

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