It’s always fascinating to see a play that was once considered controversial for its time. Teen sex, homosexuality, abortion, rape, child abuse and suicide were not subjects openly discussed in 1891 when German playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Spring Awakening. This 2007 Tony Award-winning musical adaptation by Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (composer) examines the trials of a group of repressed German teenagers.
The combination of 19th century costumes and original rock music are juxtaposed to represent the coming of age of the play from the old world to modern times. The open set and minimal props gave the actors plenty of space to aggressively dance and spring into high jumps from conventional wooden chairs. The backdrop of shining and sometimes flickering light bulbs and graphic images projected on the floor of the stage created a rock star vibe suggestive of teen rebellion.
The energetic cast delivered a good performance with creative choreography that expressed frustration and a desire for sexual connection. It’s unfortunate that it was difficult to clearly hear all the lyrics. Perhaps louder microphones would have provided some benefit, since the songs vocalize the angst of teenage life, especially in “The Bitch of Living”.
When not in a scene, the actors were seated at the right and left sides of the stage to observe each character’s journey through puberty and confusion over questions unanswered by their parents and school officials. This clever aspect signifies that all teenagers experience a river of emotions and the hormonal shift–it’s not just you.
As stated in the playbill, “Every scene was based on Wedekind’s life or that of his friends.” It’s no wonder that reinventing Spring Awakening is what makes this musical more accessible for today’s society and certainly for teen youth.