ZACH Theatre opens the 2011-12 season with the provocative musical adaptation of German dramatist Franz Wedekind’s controversial coming-of-age play Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening). The 2006 musical production of Spring Awakening, featuring music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater, took Broadway by storm and went on to win eight of the 2007 Tony awards. Broadway Across America brought the production to Austin as part of its national tour with a week-long stop at Bass Concert Hall back in October, 2009.
Written in 1892 and set in rural fin de siècle Germany, the story revolves around a group of teenagers dealing with issues that echo across time and still resonate with teens today: sexual naïveté, teen pregnancy, both physical and sexual child abuse, sadomasochism, suicide, homosexuality and abortion. Sometimes its hard to believe this story was written over a hundred years ago. This story could easily be set here in the present down the highway in a sleepy town in the Texas Hill Country.
Wendla (Sara Burke) is the naive teen girl who’s mother won’t tell her the truth about where babies come from, and Melchior (Johnny Newcomb) is the intelligent, good-looking, rebel-without-a-cause … the cool kid that everyone goes to to ask questions their parents won’t answer. Their relationship that grows with each encounter across many levels through the show is the core of the story.
Moritz (Jordan Barron) is Melchior’s best friend who is troubled by erotic dreams that are causing him to lose sleep. As a result, his grades start to suffer. His fear of failure and disappointing his parents starts to consume him, he tries to find away to make it all stop. Ilse (Elizabeth Koepp) is the free-spirited childhood friend of Melchior, Moritz, and Wendla who ran away from her abusive father to become a Bohemian as an area artist colony.
Jason Phelps and Melissa Grogan both bring outstanding performances to the production playing all the adult characters. As the parents and teachers throughout the production, they play the oppressors. Whether is be oppression by intimidation, abuse, or by keeping the youths ignorant about their sexual development; it is this oppression that drives the story and the characters.
Hänschen (Josh Wechsler) is Melchior and Moritz’s flamboyant schoolmate who, aside from his very self-gratifying masturbation scene while reading and with his father banging on the door, spends most of the performance seducing questioning classmate Ernst (Glenn Britton).
I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, personally. ZACH’s contemporary interpretation is an emotional and sensory roller coaster with a storyline that moved along at a nice pace and a strong cast of vibrant actors … several of which are still in high school as well as several who are taking the stage at ZACH for the first time. I thought the choreography was fluid … and I absolutely adore Duncan Sheik -- his “Barely Breathing” got me through a rough patch in my life -- so I really enjoyed the music.
That said, it should also be known that this modern musical interpretation is a dramatically watered down version of Wedekind’s original play, with a script for an audience that could probably sing the soundtrack from RENT from memory -- myself included. If it were produced as originally written, we might understand why it was banned or censured for most of it’s history before the Broadway production.
I recommend you see the production before reading the original. Noted author Jonathan Frazen has recently translated the original play from German into English. The book is available in bookstores and online. If you are offended by on-stage depictions of sex and/or masturbation, you might want to skip this one; or if you’re pro-abstinence, anti-gay, or pro-life this might be a bit outside of your comfort zone.
Spring Awakening is directed by Michael Baron with musical direction by Allen Robertson and choreography by Andrea Beckham. Baron is the Artistic Director of Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and joins ZACH for the first time with Spring Awakening. Robertson, a 20 year veteran at ZACH, is an Emmy Award-winning musical director, composer, playwright, actor, director, sound designer and musician with hundreds of productions under his belt. Beckham joins ZACH theater for the first time and currently teaches dance at the University of Texas at Austin.
Spring Awakening runs through Sunday, November 13, 2011 on the Kleberg Stage at ZACH Theatre with an extended performance schedule, featuring shows Tuesday - Saturday at 8 PM and a Sunday matinée at 2:30 PM. Tickets start at $35. (Note: There is a $6 web order fee on all online ticket purchases and a $4 facilities fee per ticket on all purchases.) Tickets may be purchased online at www.zachtheatre.org or by phone by calling (512) 476-0541 x1.
Creative Director & Founder, therepubliq.com
Director, Marketing/Promotions & Co-Founder, The OUTlander Project
Producer, OutCast Austin
Chase is the founder and Creative Director of therepubliq.com and co-founder and Director, Marketing & Promotions of The OUTlander Project. He is also a producer and engineer for OutCast Austin, an award-winning LGBT weekly radio program on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. In 2011, he was named the Critics Pick for 'Most Gaybiquitous' in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin.
Additionally, Chase runs PlanetChase, LLC, a consulting firm providing a variety of business development services including web development, marketing, branding, technology to small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs; as well as meeting planning services for the financial services industry.
On his spare time, Chase has volunteered with local organizations including AIDS Services of Austin, the Octopus Club, the Austin Gay Basketball League and Volleyball Austin. In 2007, he was appointed by then-Austin Mayor Will Wynn to serve on the Austin Area Comprehensive HIV Planning Council where he served as the chairperson of the Community Access & Nominations committee.