Spring Awakening: The Ultimate Ensemble Musical

The set-up: Spring Awakening, winner of eight Tony awards, is based on an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind that depicts the torturous stirrings of sexuality among the young. The glorious rock music is by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics are by Steven Sater, who captures the anguish of confused youth under the boot of authority. It is the ultimate ensemble musical, where a large and energetic cast merge together with choreography, direction, lighting, set and sound to create a world as compelling as the one in Cabaret.

The execution: It has moments when the talented leads step forward to break your heart or fill your soul with excitement, but the real stars are the quicksilver movements of the young straining at their shackles, the mood lighting that seems to strike just the right note, the simple set that serves so well a multiplicity of purposes, the special sound effects, the unobtrusive talented band and, of course, the music, all coming together in a triumphant kaleidoscope of talent that worms its way into your heart.

George Brock's brilliant direction involves us from the opening song, "Mama Who Bore Me" and seals the deal with an electric staging of a Latin lesson. The choreography by Kristin Warren contributes so much that her name should go above the title. The romantic lead is the good-looking intellectual Melchior, played by Corey Hartzog, who looks the part and creates an authentic characterization as he moves from warmth and camaraderie to educator, to swain, and finally to a rebel. His rendition of "Totally Fucked," aided by dazzling choreography, music and yes, even the lyrics, is one of the highlights of the show. Tyce Green plays Moritz, an ill-fated student struggling in class, who has possibly - and deliberately - the worst haircut ever seen on stage. His energy and body language surge across the stage like a tornado, and they etch an indelible portrait.

The love interest is Wendla, portrayed by Stephanie Styles, who handles convincingly a difficult, complex role. Andy Ingalls brings great comic timing to a moment of self-gratification. Philip Lehl plays several adult men, and imprints his skilled stamp on each, and choreographer Kristin Warren does equally well playing the adult women. The graveside staging of the poignant "Left Behind" is especially moving. Costumes by Susan Hilferty are simple but effective. The lighting by Matt Schlieff creates appropriate drama, and the sound design by Andrew Harper adds immeasurably to the seduction scene, while the set by Jodi Bobrovsky permits the desired fluidity.

The verdict: Spring Awakening is a pleasure, a triumph, and a rich learning experience. It is a joy simply to immerse oneself into the recreated world of tormented youth with a compelling tale to tell. Don't miss the limited run, and bring a friend - they will be grateful.

Through July 31 in repertory with Art, so verify which is on. Generations Theatre at Hamman Hall, Rice University, 6100 Main St. 832-326-1045. $10 to $40.

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Jim Tommaney