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Review: Passion, Pathos Stir "Spring Awakening"

CAP's gifted, fearless cast brings light to this dark, provocative musical at its Plainview theater.

In the first act of "," a grim schoolmaster inflicts corporal punishment on a student of Latin, cracking a pointer across the young man's belly. The professor's brutish concerns are for a dead language, rather than the living, breathing, sex-starved souls whose young minds he's supposed to be molding.

The really shocking concept in the musical now playing at Plainview'sisn't the sexually charged frustrations and the consequences that can result from love and the act of loving. The real stunners here are ignorance, denial, and the oppressive institutions young people are expected to get in lock step with.

Like the Latin lesson, learning by rote is nothing more than a memory game, a teach-to-the-test kind of ignorance that stifles free thinking. Life is more than that.

This is a risky coming-of-age musical to pull off at any level, but Producer-Director Bruce Grossman's gifted and highly disciplined cast shines in this dark portrayal of emerging sexuality amid blind repression. It is no wonder Grossman counts more than a dozen alumni as Broadway cast members.

The play's loss-of-innocence essence is captured brilliantly by Ashley Nicastro who, as the white-clad woman-child "Wendla," displays a depth of acting range equaled only by her vocal aeronautics.

Miss Nicastro commands our attention from her fearless, nightgowned entrance. She is a girl still innocent of the feelings awakening in her, repressed and curious. She is also a woman, eager and sensual. She craves a world she feels with both hands but doesn't yet understand.

She is attracted to "Melchior," the introspective young man who has the hypocritical adults all figured out. Jesse Pimpinella's "Melchior" is the apotheosis of teenage angst with passions fueled to the ignition point. "Shame," he declares, "is nothing but the product of education."

Pimpinella's "emo boy" and Nicastro's schoolgirl maiden are destined to collide and combust with wondrous but disastrous effect. When their voices blend, the harmony sounds like true love.

They are supported by a high-energy cast that moves seamlessly between scenes and emotional highs and lows. The stunning Jillian Graziosa stood apart as the complex "Ilsa," whose travels make her worldly enough to realize there's no place like home. She returns to flirt with her childhood sweetheart, the tragic "Moritz," whose inner torment is conveyed convincingly by Mike Visconti. 

The original musical opened on Broadway in 2006 and won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical. It is based on a controversial 1892 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind that was censored for its themes of youthful lust and depictions of homosexuality.

The pit orchestra delivered the complex rock score, written by Duncan Sheik, nearly flawlessly. Only occasionally were there issues of balance and enunciation between cast and orchestra.

The tunes may not be memorable, but they are often lovely, especially as performed by a gifted group of professional string players. The book and lyrics by Steven Sater are tight and driven by the cast's excellent pacing.

"Spring Awakening" is not for youngsters or the closed minded. For every one else, it is a must-see, thought-provoking work executed with grace and by stellar young talent.

The music was directed by Matt DeMaria; Michelle M. Roy's black and white costuming evoked a dark, Fellini-esque atmosphere.

Performances are every Friday and Saturday (including tonight) at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. and a special Wednesday performance on November 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and on sale by calling 516-694-3330.The show runs through Dec. 1.

Editor's Note: Joe Dowd is the Local Editor for Plainview Patch and a theatre buff.

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