Since its release in 2006, the musical “Spring Awakening” has brought controversy to the stage and left amazed audiences in its wake. These aren’t your typical showtunes, and these aren’t your traditional Broadway themes or plot. And with performances starting this Thursday, Mask & Bauble is staging this unconventional Tony Award-nominated musical in the Davis Performing Arts Center.
“Spring Awakening” is a rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, complete with handheld microphones and dry ice. It is based on the 1891 German play by the same name and openly discusses controversial topics, such as abortion, masturbation, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide, using soulful ballads, angsty group numbers and poignant dialogue. As you can imagine, these were not easy themes to deal with for college-aged actors, but the cast pulled it off with incredible maturity and a staggering level of talent. This is made even more impressive by the fact that two of the most difficult roles are taken on by freshmen: Olivia Duff (COL ’16) and Andrew Walker (SFS’16), who play Wendla Bergman and Moritz Stiefel, respectively.
“Spring Awakening is a coming-of-age story, but it is presented from the perspective and in the language of the adolescents [who] are coming of age, not their adult ‘oppressors’” Walker said. “The process has been emotionally draining, but you know how important the work you’re doing is and how important it is to tell these characters’ stories, and you just push through it.”
Both of these freshmen give stellar performances despite the difficulties these roles pose. The emphasis of the show is on the troubled and complex characters, which is a trial that director Hannah Hauer-King (COL ’14) was more than ready to handle.
“Character work for this process was challenging but even more so exciting,” Hauer-King said. “It is important not to vilify or simplify any of the characters within the piece. Even the adults who are the source of the children’s anxiety and distress must be seen as tragic characters, a product of a society that limits expression and intimacy.”
Acting opposite Duff and Walker, John Roach (COL ’13) portrays the role of the misunderstood Melchior with an authenticity that is sure to break hearts in multiple scenes.
“Every character is integral in telling this story, and that is a testament to the incredible actors we have working on this show and [Hauer-King’s] brilliant direction,” says Walker.
Kyle O’Donnell (COL ’14), who undertakes the role of Hanschen, echoed these thoughts and described his own character as a self-important, driven and snarky individual. This character poses several unique challenges that stem from his sexual confusion.
“I think the characters excite me most about the work. The characters are complicated and complex — children on the brink of adulthood,” O’Donnell said. “We can all relate to their struggles with sexuality, love and familial relationships. Hannah has been extraordinary in being our leader through this complicated work.”
Though the space in Poulton is small, the tech crew has made excellent use of their resources with intricate moving panels and several platforms stationed around the stage to create levels. Just as one actor is used to portray many different roles in this production, the pieces of scenery are equally versatile. The proximity of the audience to the stage doesn’t seem to faze the actors, and one may find oneself staring directly into the face of an outraged German teenager during any one of the large group numbers or feel the gust of wind as a cast member rushes on stage from their entrance behind you. The production team was incredibly resourceful and the fact that the show encompasses the whole theater really amplifies the experience for the audience members.
“Spring Awakening” will take place on Stage III in Poulton Hall April 4 to 6 at 8 p.m., April 7 at 2 p.m. and April 10 to 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students and $12 for general admission and will be available at performingarts.georgetown.edu.