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VOL. 127 | NO. 44 | Monday, March 5, 2012

Teens Awaken in Broadway Musical

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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Love and flowers aren’t the only things that bloom in spring, at least according to an award-winning Broadway musical premiering at Circuit Playhouse in March.

“Spring Awakening” at Circuit Playhouse explores the physical awakening of a group of teenagers in a repressed, provincial German town. The show won eight Tonys in 2007. (Photo: Courtesy of John Moore)

In “Spring Awakening,” teenagers’ natural urges and unanswered questions combine in a rush of rock music to spell out the drama of becoming an adult.

“Sometimes an adult society will forget or not want to remember what it’s like to be a teenager,” said Dave Landis, Playhouse on the Square resident company member and director of the show, which opens March 2. “The teenagers in the show discover that sex is part of human nature. If society puts you into a box, it frustrates you into wanting to know more.”

And there you have the force behind the show’s plot – a group of teenagers around the age of 16 and living in a small provincial town in 19th century Germany are led by their newfound physical feelings to experiment with previously taboo sexual issues. Information is hard to come by and their parents’ refusal to address sex as an issue is magnified by pressure to succeed.

The Broadway adaptation with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik won eight Tonys in 2007 and started a cult following among teenagers. That’s a far cry from the treatment of the original play version written by Frank Wedekind in 1891.

If German society doesn’t strike most people as the most repressive society in history, Landis said that the teenagers in the story would grow up to be the generation that followed Hitler into the Third Reich. They were taught to do as they were told without question. Establishing somewhat extreme levels of order in households and schools provided the glue that would later regiment legions of Nazis.

“It was regarded as a play that probably should not be produced and I believe it was banned for several decades because of its subject matter,” Landis said. “It’s still set in the 1890s, but it has that (teenagerish) melodramatic feel. When you’re a teenager everything is life and death. What the Broadway show has done is take these moments when we go inside the kids’ heads and turn them into rock concerts. The show has this contemporary feel and basically you’re getting a glimpse at the kids’ inner turmoil.”

Still, Landis said, the themes are timeless and relevant to teens today. Peer pressure, suicide and teen pregnancy are all on the menu. The show opens with a teenage girl asking her mother where babies come from. She’s told only to love her husband.

Melchior, played by Ben Laxton, is the first of the teens to take his awakening to a state of rebellion after he falls for a girl he’s known all his life and ...

“Things happen,” Landis said.

To augment the uniform conservatism of the adults in the play, all of the adult roles are performed by one man and one woman, David Foster and Carla McDonald. The cast is filled out by Sarah Hoch, Nick Mason, Andrea Rouch, Michael Thomas Grant, Kelsey Hopkins, Kyle Blair, Cassie Thompson, Christian Green, Kilby Hodges and Sam Shankman.

To add to the sense that the teens are actually on trial for their feelings, some audience seating will be available on stage, set rather like a jury box.

“If I can make a plea to any adult parent who might want to come see the show, I think it does promote at least a certain level of awareness that there’s responsibility from all angles of society to keep the lines of communication open,” Landis said. “If we’re all completely honest, we did the exact same thing when we were that age.”

That said, the show is not for young children. It contains sexual language, adult situations and graphic descriptions. The Broadway show also contains brief nudity, but Landis said he was leaving it to his actors to decide if they felt led to do that or not.

“Spring Awakening” runs through March 25. For tickets, visit www.playhouseonthesquare.org or call 726-4656.

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