Tag Archives: Dino Hayz

“Spring” fueled by vulnerability and emotion.

spring awakening

Top left, Adam Cerny and Anastasiya Newkirk as Melchior and Wendla. Top right: Aaron Lord as Moritz and Tina Hayz as Melchior’s Mother (and all other female adults). Bottom right: Cerny as Melchior

When I saw Spring Awakening for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that it was ‘R’ rated. I had seen on Wikipedia that some of the songs have adult language, and that it is about teenagers exploring the very adult themes of sexuality, suicide, abortion, faith, and doubt. I knew not to bring my daughter, but I had no idea what I was in for.

I had no idea that I would be treated to one of the most emotionally charged, passionate performances I have ever seen. That was 2014, when the Center for Living Arts presented Spring Awakening for the second time. I was so dumbfounded by the performance that for the first time in my life, I saw the same show again on the following weekend.

This time when I saw it, on Opening Night 2016, I had no excuse to be surprised. And yet shocked I was.

Shock is a dangerous word to use when describing art. There is a lot of art out there that is designed to simply shock. It has little value other than to cause disgust, hoping that it draws eyes in the same way that an auto accident draws gapers.

And while there are moments that can be described as shocking, that is never the point. Yes, lyrics like “totally f-ed” (which is sung with passionate, emotional, perfect articulation of a word that rhymes with ‘ducked’), and “it’s the bitch of living,” might give you a jolt. But the point is not to swear – it is to express a rage that rises under the weight of suppression and finally boils over in, dare I say, a climactic release.

Yes, watching a young man beg his Dad for another minute in the bathroom is a little uncomfortable. But the point is to show that the shame that the adults have attached to sexuality. It is to show that privacy is precious, and sometimes hard to come by.

Yes, watching the female cast explore their (totally clothed) bodies with their hands as they sing “Touch Me” made me feel a little like a dirty old man watching something I shouldn’t be watching. But the point is not to arouse. It is to reveal that there are things going on inside which they do not fully understand. Set up by the agonizing first scene of a girl’s mother unable to give even the most basic information about sex and reproduction to her daughter.

Yes, watching the main characters finally give in to their bodies in a passionate moment in the hay loft could be described as shocking. But the point is not voyeurism. A particular choice made by amazing Director Dino Hayz was made to show that these are two young people who care about each other and are doing something that feels natural and good. They are feeling something real for the first time in a culture that has told them over and over again that feeling anything is dangerous.

All of these moments, and more which I did not describe, are incredibly intimate. There are times in the cozy Center for Living Arts theater that some of the actors are literally inches away.

There’s not a moment that the actors can hide. They are there, exposed, even while fully clothed. They are so vulnerable that it brings you to the edge of discomfort. Some highlights:

Myka Waljasper, singing “The Dark I Know Well,” crushes me. Every time. She puts on the character of Martha like a well-worn coat. In both the 2014 and 2016 versions she sang the song beautifully. In 2014, I remember Martha more as brutalized and frightened. This year, she projects bold defiance to survive in the face of brutality.

Noel Huntley plays one of my favorite characters, Ilse. Her “Blue Wind,” comes right after a heartbreaking bit of nostalgia between her and Moritz. We all wish we could go back to their childhood. Back to a simpler time and play pirates. Ilse, who escaped one abusive home to find only an abusive community, sings of the blue wind of autumn, cold and sad. The misery of a lost childhood is clear in both her song and acting. In doing research for this review, I learned that she is 16 years old, and once again – almost a week after seeing the show, I’m shocked.

I imagine that someday I will see a production of Spring Awakening that does not include Aaron Lord as Moritz and Anastasiya Newkirk as Wendla. Frankly, it will be strange.

Lord’s Mortiz is the nervous, hyper-anxious friend of Melchior. The weight of expectations is too much for him. Lord, reprising his role from 2014, makes it feel as if all of Mortiz’s anxiety travels up through his eyes and oozes into his hair. He channels the pre-1995 punk intensity of Billie Joe Armstrong. I half-expected him to break into, “Sometimes I give myself the creeps. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me,” from Green Day’s ‘Basket Case,’ which was an anthem of my own youth.

When Newkirk is on the stage, it is almost impossible to stop watching her. From her first scene, when she defiantly tells her mother, “You don’t think that I believe in the stork, do you?” to her last, she reveals the heart of the show. The changes she experiences are the emotional center of it all, and Newkirk carries it well.

Adam Cerny gives Melchior a bright-eyed optimism that I hadn’t seen before. In the story, he is the voice of truth. He questions authority, sticks up for his bullied friend, and sees the world for what it could be. Somehow Cerny is able to make this teenager who is wise beyond his years at the same time naïve and joyful. His emotional scenes with Wendla are believable, and his agony and turmoil in the second act is gut-wrenching.

In the end, all of these performances matter only because of the story. It is a story that needs to be told. It is a story that I, as a pastor and father, need to hear. It is a reminder that winds change, no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t. Faithful begin to question. Boys grow into men. Girls grow into women. Grief heals. Grace abounds. And yes, winter turns to spring.

So we must be ready. We must embrace the change, not with lies or easy answers. We must face the truth of pain and struggle if we are ever to live with hope. In the end, the cast sings of the Purple Summer, when the butterfly sings and opens its wings. The Purple Summer, when we can look out in wonder. The Purple Summer, when we can hold onto one another, and allow grace of new life to flow.

Good art makes you feel. Great art makes you change. The story of Spring Awakening is a reminder that I cannot hide pain of change from my girls. I cannot shy away from the tough questions of the youth I am charged with leading. I cannot be another weight of expectations and judgment upon kids who are already shackled.  I can decide to either be a part of the cold blue wind, or hold onto the hope of the warm purple summer. I choose grace. Purple has always been a favorite color.

Spring Awakening is playing on Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19 at 7:00 p.m. at The Center For Living Arts, which is located at 2008 4th Avenue, Rock Island Il. Go to http://centerforlivingarts.org for more information. You can go to the Spring Awakening Quad Cities Facebook page, as well.

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To love another person is to see the face of God

Les-MiserablesI have seen Les Mis live four times, including yesterday afternoon. The first three times were on grand stages in Peoria, Saint Louis, and Chicago with touring Broadway casts. It is a story of grace and salvation that needs to be told, and it is a story that my heart longs to hear over and over.  Seeing Les Mis is a sacramental experience for me.  It at the same time convicts and uplifts me.  It reminds me of the stark cruelty of the world and of the sublime beauty that lies within us. The music, the power, the triumph, and emotion of it is something I crave like a cold glass of milk after an oreo.

Every time I see it, I have to resist the urge to sing along for the sake of those sitting next to me.    Every time I see it,  I laugh at the Thenardiers raunchy jokes.  Every time I see it, I shed a tear for the plight of Fantine and bristle at the cruelty of the world.  Every time Is see it, I am inspired by Valjean’s integrity, and lament Javert’s misplaced idea of duty. The tears have come every time that Gabrach is shot, and I ache for Eponine as she sings “On My Own,” as I remember the unrequited loves of my own youth.  They come again when Eponine dies, and I hang on the director’s decision to let them kiss before her last breath or not.  Since having daughters of my own, the tears have found new outlets, like when young Cosette begs to not go into the dark.  They come strongest now when Valjean sings “She was never mine to keep,” as he sees Cosette and Marius wed.

Every time I see it, I leave emotionally exhausted.  Yesterday afternoon was no exception.  The performance I witnessed was not as polished or grand as the others that I have seen.  The actors were not Broadway stars, and the stage and set was not in a world class theater.  It was in a re-purposed building, with simple costumes, a sparse set, and young actors.  Yes, young actors.  The oldest performers were 16.

centerI saw Les Mis at the Center For Living Arts.  It was directed by Dino and Tina Hayz.  The cast had three weeks from their first rehearsal to their first showtime.  In those three weeks, the rehearsed five days a week for 8 hours a day.  The youth at The Center are talented, but the show was not great because they blew me away with their singing.  The show was great because they poured themselves into it.  They captured the emotion and the passion that is needed to pull off a show as big as Les Mis.

Though I cringed a few times because of the adult-oriented themes, like when the brilliant Madame and Master  Thenardier sang their raunchy songs, or when the cast of young teenagers sang “Lovely Ladies,” there was something about their raw youth that made it even more real.  The performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” by a very young Fantine was one of the best performances of that song I have ever seen.  I realized that the young girl singing was probably about the same age as a “real” Fantine would have been.  The harsh truth is that many of the sexual slaves of the era – and even today – are but young teenagers.  The youthful exuberance of the students in the taverns, willing to die for their cause took on a higher level of tragedy.  The love story of Cosette and Marius seemed more authentic than usual, as I’ve always felt the love-at-first-sight story seemed a little contrived when it was adults playing the roles.  Eponine’s “On My Own,” was as emotional as any I’ve witnessed as it was sung with a forlorn wistfulness than only a teenager can make believable.

By the time the whole cast came out to sing the finale, I was ready to stand and join them beyond the barricade.  The final vision, which is the Kingdom of God where even Javert can find the redemption he was never able to offer, is one that puts goosebumps on my arms and fills me with hope.   As I watched the group of young people stand and sing, I was filled with awe.

I have worked with Dino and Tina before.  I have witnessed what they can do with people with willing hearts.  All I can say about them is that they work magic.  Absolute magic.

Les Mis has long been my favorite musical.  Miss Saigon has always been my second-favorite.  I heard that the Center is considering it for next summer.  It will be an even taller task than Les Mis, but I can already see the Master of the House as The Engineer.  If anyone can pull it off, it is Dino and Tina.

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