When Spring Awakening opens at TUTS next week, the rock musical comes with no shortage of teenage angst.
The story follows a group of adolescents learning about love, relationships, and sex the hard way in repressive turn-of-the-century Germany. With a book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening, based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, first premiered off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company. Its Broadway run opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in 2006 and won eight Tony Awards. The original cast soundtrack also won a Grammy, striking a chord for its honest examination of youth culture that seems to never lose its relevance.
“I feel like there’s a lot of rhetoric in the culture now about millennials,” says Taibi Magar, director of this TUTS production. “People will say it while rolling their eyes: ugh, millennials. I actually feel like young people are doing some really incredible things. There’s an age old cycle of young people activating politically and socially, and the adults tend to write them off and mitigate their importance. I feel like all I have to do is look at the Parkland students, and I’m truly inspired by them and can really learn from them. I think the piece is an effort to do that.”
Choreographer Marlana Doyle points out that while the musical can be fun and energizing, it is not a walk in the park. “It’s really relatable for any teenager and also any adult because everybody went through puberty and experienced these first ideas of sexuality and relationships and love, but it’s also a little bit about suicide and bullying and child abuse and sexual abuse. So it’s pretty heavy, but I think if people understand what they’re coming to see.”
Even if you’ve lost touch with that feeling of wild adolescent confusion, the busy adult can still find ways to connect with the play. “It’s interesting to see the parallels,” Doyle says. “But I know that things are different for me. I feel like I’m more mature. But also I do feel that way sometimes, like a little crazy and like ‘what’s happening?’ But I’m excited to be in that headspace too, to continue to motivate me.”
Actress Sophia Introna, who plays Wendla in the production, says that Spring Awakening had been a dream show for her since high school.
“[Wendla] goes through a huge arc and journey,” she explains. “Our director said she sees us grow up in the show. [Our first design run] was so emotional I almost threw up. Hopefully that doesn’t happen every night, but my point is that I’m excited to explore that and have that journey every night. I wish it would be even longer.”
Magar hopes that people leave the theater with a renewed sense of respect for teenagers and their political agency.
“I hope the young people who come feel a kinship with the stories on the stage which hopefully can provide a catharsis for them that everything they’re going through is important and difficult,” Magar says. “I also feel like there’s a lyric in the final song that’s sort of a coda to the whole thing that wasn’t actually on the original cast recording. It starts with 'listen to your children.' So it’s also for adults. In some ways it culminates as a morality tale for them to listen to children. The goal of this storytelling is to hopefully provide parents with the ability to slow down and honor what their children are going through.”
October 8-20. Tickets starting at $40. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2400. More info and tickets at tuts.com.