Sex. It’s controversial today, and it has been for more than a century. That’s why Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, Spring Awakening, which has strong sexual themes and language, was not produced in the playwright’s native Germany until 1906.
It opened to English audiences for the first time in New York in 1917, and closed after one performance.
Times have changed. The winner of eight 2007 Tony awards including "best musical" and a 2008 Grammy for "Best Musical Show Album opens Wednesday as part of California Musical Theatre’s Broadway Sacramento season. Well, sort of. Spring Awakening was not offered as part of the season subscription package, because the theater’s executive producer, Richard Lewis, said he did not want to "force" the show on an audience.
Christopher McSwain, community affairs director for California Musical Theatre, urged people not to reject the play merely because it deals with sex. It’s more about the consequences of not communicating openly with teenagers about sex, he said.
"If asked to give a blanket statement so that people could judge whether or not it’s right for them and sum it up in five or so words, we say "recommended for 17 and over," McSwain added. "But if there are 16-year-old musical theater fans who are dying to see it, they will be able to buy a ticket."
As part of the marketing strategy, Broadway Sacramento held a Spring Awakening event Friday at Mix,1531 L St. It featured theme drinks, TV screens playing scenes and stills from the show, and music from the score. (Full disclosure: California Musical Theatre is an advertising partner with The Sacramento Press and The Sacramento Press helped plan the Mix event.)
It’s a timeless musical, McSwain said. With a score by pop-rock musician Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening is geared to a young audience despite the age of the script.
"I hope that the kids who see it recognize the value in actually talking about their lives and finding connections," said Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer. "Without getting preachy, I think this play can have a positive impact on society as well as provide a terrifically entertaining and very, very moving theater experience."
The show’s producer, Tom Hulce, echoed this sentiment. Hulce is most famous for playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the Academy Award-winning 1984 film Amadeus.
"Kids have found one of a dozen different things in the play to be particularly meaningful to them, that give them either a hope they didn’t have before, or an understanding they didn’t have before, or an ability to talk to people that they didn’t have before," he said. "The issues of how we raise our children, how we can best answer their needs, and what is the right way to help young people become themselves is universal."
One way to get closer to the story and gain a different perspective is to buy a seat on the stage. "Without joining the actors union, how else do you get on a Broadway stage?" joked McSwain.
Having members of the audience onstage is in keeping with Spring Awakening‘s theme: It’s a story about experiences we all share, not just 19th century German schoolkids. A $25 seat onstage might land you next to the drummer or even a singer, McSwain said.
"What we hear is: Is Sacramento ready for this?" McSwain said. "We figure it’s playing Des Moines (Iowa) and East Lansing, (Mich.), (so) if Des Moines can handle it, maybe we can. I think we’re at least as hip and edgy as Des Moines, don’t you think?"
Spring Awakening runs Nov. 4-15 at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L St. Tickets are $18 to $65, available here.
*Photograph one credit Paul Kolnik. Photograph two credit Joan Marcus.