In many ways this is better than the original production, something that’s always good to hear about a revival. Above all, director Michael Arden and his team have made sure this tale of teenagers discovering their sexuality in hyper-repressed 1891 Germany is much more clearly told and played than before.
In the original, the creative team favored highly poetic ambiguity, certainly not a bad choice for this symbol-laden work. However, by focusing more concretely on the moment-to-moment psychological nuances of the story, Arden has amped up its emotional pull considerably.
Arden finds his own way into the musical’s innate sensuality, with incense actually being burnt at an appropriate point in the show. He has also given designer Dane Laffery free reign to create a multifaceted set with lots of crannies and surprises, which gives solid support to the ensemble.
One thing that makes me very happy is the way Arden has turned up the heat on the homosexual romance between Hanschen (Andy Mientus) and Ernst (Joshua Castille). While Hanschen is unavoidably arrogant, Mientus successfully plays the hunger for companionship and physical comfort hiding behind his haughty mask. Plus, the sexual component of Ernst’s longing for Hanschen is now much more up front. When these two make out, it’s hot!
The adult woman are marvelously played by Camryn Manheim and Marlee Matlin, giving us a fascinating window into what drives these women to repress sexuality, in themselves and their children. They are also therefore more formidable, giving the teens a bigger obstacle to rebel against. Recommended.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.