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Life by Design


Facing the Unknown

Posted by Carren |

Spring Awakening challenges with a provocative production fit for a mature Broadway audience

Text and Pictures by: Carren Jao
Published: MEGA Sept 2008

THE UNKNOWN, the looming darkness where nothing is certain, frightens most of us. We are asked to make a choice -- to stay the course and be content only in what we know, or will ourselves out of a gnawing uncertainty to find a new world in our midst.

Unknown sensations overwhelm the minds and dreams of a roomful of pubescent children in Atlantic Theatre Company’s Broadway musical Spring Awakening, showing at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on 49th Street, New York City. Based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German language play, Spring Awakening depicts the journeys of fourteen year-old bodies at the cusp of puberty suddenly assaulted with yearnings foreign to their once naïve imaginations.

The 1891 play was banned for fifteen years because of its provocative material daring to talk about taboo topics such as sexuality, abuse and suicide. Wederkind’s Spring Awakening would challenge the status quo, provoking questions about the authoritarian school system and flawed sexual education practices of the day. Falling somewhere in between Naturalism and Expressionism, Wederkind chooses to express emotional truth rather than actual truth, showing not telling the audiences the raw violence of growing up. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the motto of those extremely conservative days. Information especially concerning sexuality is privileged, and ironically becomes the source of the play’s central tragedy.

The world then was not quite ready to throw off its inhibitions and flirt with the risqué and unknown. It would wait for many more years before it could be shown in its entirety.

Finally, in Spring Awakening’s 2006 Broadway incarnation, New York (and the world) was hungry for something more than its usual fare of bland fairy tale endings. Occasionally breaking the fourth wall, cast members would directly address the audience gyrating to the rhythm of their bodies singing with abandon or tremblingly approach adults and peers for guidance or affection. Their pleas were hard-hitting and exhilarating, singing music from Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater.

Reminiscent of Rent’s groundbreaking milestone, combining taboo-breaking musical theatre with a contemporary rock edge, Spring Awakening would receive eleven Tony award nominations going on to win eight Tony awards including best musical, direction, score and featured actor. It would also win the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 2008.

This Broadway incarnation successfully awakens the audience from their complacent stupor by shedding light onto whispered questions and giving license to ask the taboo. Spring Awakening defiantly portrays the turbulence and violence of youth with all the questions and raw emotions it brings.


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