Teens get physical in Broadway production

With Winter Break fast approaching, those of you who aren’t working for the man might need something to do. While you could hang out at the local diner until 4 a.m., you could also grab a few friends and spend an evening having some cultured fun in New York City watching a Broadway play.

I was lucky enough to check out a new show on Broadway called “Spring Awakening.” About a group of teenagers and their struggles during adolescence, particularly with their sexualities, the show is set in Germany during the 1890s.

However, don’t let that fool you. Music by Duncan Sheik (yes, that Duncan Sheik), lyrics by Steven Sater and a contemporary script has made the play not only timeless, but easy to follow and even funny.

But don’t get the idea that this is a comedy, because it is far from “The Taming of the Shrew.” The story, while amusing in parts, and with funny, easily relatable songs like “Totally Fucked,” covers very serious topics like teen pregnancy, depression and the pressures of trying to be perfect.

Living in an oppressive society, this group of 11 teens has to discover what to do with their hormones and their constant thoughts about sex (remember being 16?) when some don’t even know what sex is.

The first scene even has Wendla, the main female character, discussing with her mother how babies are made. “Mama, I’m an aunt for the second time and I still don’t know how it happens!” Wendla said, begging for an explanation.

Her mother, however, would offer only that when a husband and wife really love each other, they have a baby. This lie leads to serious consequences later in the play, more grave than you’d ever expect. Oh the suspense!

Wendla’s love interest, Melchior, played by Jonathan Groff, is the protagonist of the story.

He starts off as the popular, attractive and intelligent “bad boy” who questions the doctrine of the authority figures surrounding the teens.

Sater said that one of the changes to the play from the original was the focus on Melchior’s story, “creating a journey for Melchior. The first and last songs didn’t even exist until we had his journey,” Sater said.

The show, after being performed off-Broadway for six years, has finally moved up to the big stage at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, as has one of its players. Lea Michele, who plays Wendla, has been with the production since it started, and has been playing the part since she was 14. “I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable,” Michele said about playing the role for so long.

She said both she and the material have changed so much. “I don’t feel like it’s the same show. It brings an air of excitement to every performance,” she said.

The production team worked on the show for eight years, including its time off-Broadway, before bringing it to Broadway.

Director Michael Mayer discussed some of the ideas that went into this version of the production. “However the songs functioned, they needed to be different from a regular musical,” he said.

Modern lyrics sung to a rock background (with the band onstage) have made this show different than any other on the stage now, and the songs nearly become central characters.

The actors even pull microphones from all sorts of secret hiding places for each solo, pulling away from the narrative and emphasizing the music.

Sheik refuted comparisons to “Rent” that have been made in the media. “But God, I would love for it to be as successful as ‘Rent,'” he said.

Many songs have been added, and some cut during the production of the play, before the play made it onto a Broadway stage.

Producer Tom Hulce said at one point the show had a narrator, who was cut as the production moved away from the original written play.

Sater said the team was concerned about bringing the play to Broadway. “You want to push the envelope as an artist,” he said, referencing how unusual the show is, but “the economics are really scary, though the audience responds well. With yet another Disney show on every year, I don’t think they’re ever going to leave,” he joked.