Remember growing up?
Puberty, hormones, special feelings, lust, strange feelings, things growing, things changing – and that’s just for starters. Add to that school, friends, social acceptance, social awkwardness, parents not understanding and, well, saying it’s hard is a bit of an understatement.
It’s not a new thing, either. History is full of stories of teenage angst and rebellion — from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” to Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” to, more recently, Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” trilogy.
Back in 1891, German playwright Frank Wedekind wrote the play “Spring Awakening,” which touched on everything from abortion, rape, child abuse, homosexuality and suicide. The play was banned for quite some time in Germany.
In 2006, Steven Sater and rock icon Duncan Sheik worked together to transform the play into a Broadway musical. Starring Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff before they made it big on “Glee,” and John Gallagher, who’s made a home on the HBO show “The Newsroom,” the show went on to win eight Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and a Grammy.
The School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is bringing the musical to life, when “Spring Awakening” hits the stage at the Kay Theatre starting Friday.
The show is directed by Patrik Widrig, Sara Pearson and Brian MacDevitt. Although MacDevitt has won multiple Tony Awards for lighting design, he’s quick to point out he’s directed several shows in the past. A member of the play selection committee for University of Maryland, he nominated “Spring Awakening,” because he loved the music so much.
“As I started investigating it more, I started having vision of what it could be,” MacDevitt said. “… Luckily it worked out, got approved and now I’m just steaming ahead.”
Since the show isn’t your typical Broadway musical “with hoofers in it,” according to MacDevitt, it gives the opportunity for more contemporary dance. That’s where Widrig and Pearson, both associated professors of dance at the university, come in. Working together with Widrig and Pearson has been a dream, MacDevitt said.
“It was an easy fit,” MacDevitt said. “We discovered early on the play explores themes that we’re really serious about. We’ve all kind of fallen in love with the project and with everybody on the teams.
“We have sort of a dream team here.”
Zac Brightbill, who plays the intelligent protagonist Melchior, said he and the cast are having a blast and he absolutely loves it.
One of the props of the show is a journal kept by Melchior. Brightbill said he has been writing in the journal throughout the rehearsal process.
“I’m going in and writing all of the Melchior journal entries for, like, half a year up until the day of the first journal entry in the show,” Brightbill said. “It’s so much fun!”
Since the show talks about sex, masturbation and other topics in a very frank nature, it wouldn’t be surprising if the actors felt a little embarrassed or uncomfortable – at least to start. Brightbill said that, thanks to MacDevitt, everyone has been laid back and comfortable.
“His interpretation of the play, he wants to make everything very real and very authentic and very caring,” Brightbill said.
For example, in the original play, Melchior rapes Wendla, but in the musical, it’s softened to the point of consensual sex.
“Instead of Melchior’s all go-go-go for the sex, it’s much more Wendla having a say in ‘Yes, let’s do this,’” Brightbill said. “Which makes it much more loving and compassionate and something that Wendla and I can share … it comes very easily and naturally.”
The show has many adult themes and is recommended for ages 17 and older by the theater. Still, throughout it all, MacDevitt said the cast has been incredible.
“We’re trying to make a real, concerted effort to make them real people and not two-dimensional cartoon characters which you might find in other musicals,” MacDevitt said. “They’ve been great. They feel like they’re in a really safe place and they have a lot of freedom to explore. They are finding real moments in sometimes challenging scenes.”
Brightbill said he’s thought a lot about what the audience might take away from the show. In the end, he hopes they have a better understanding about teaching teenagers.
“Just being able to navigate the line between teaching children and knowing when they’re too young to know something or too old not to know something,” Brightbill said. “I think one of the worst things is if a child comes to you with a question and you say ‘You’re not old enough,’ or ‘I’ll tell you when you’re older.’ They’ll just go out and find some other way to figure out what it is.
“That’s pretty much what happens in this show.”