MADISON – Teenage evolution amid parental oppression centers as the theme of Madison Lyric Stage’s latest production, the rock musical “Spring Awakening,” with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater.
The show, running from July 21 to July 30 at the Deacon John Grave House, is based on the 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind.
“Spring Awakening” follows Wendla, played by Rebecca Tobin, and Melchior, played by Keegan Sells, two adolescents who fall in love in a time where puritanical thought and teaching dominate the culture. In a society where their voices are oppressed and questioning authority is forbidden, they and their classmates cry out their despair, sexual frustration and self-doubt through hard-driving rock songs.
Director Marc Deaton said he didn’t care much for “Spring Awakening” when it first premiered on Broadway in 2006.
“I was familiar with the original play,” he said. “It makes it much more contemporary and … I got stuck in an old-fashioned point of view of the material.”
After refamiliarizing himself with the show, he decided it would be a great project for Madison Lyric Stage.
“I wanted the opportunity to work with a young cast with issues they’re dealing with,” Deaton said. “The piece puts forth a lot of issues that are vital. Not much has changed in 100 years. It’s a good time to bring this piece.”
The original play’s material is still seen as controversial and explicit, he said, but the Madison Lyric Stage audience is supportive of the company’s work.
“All the social issues are important,” Deaton said. “But also the cycles of life. Things happen in your life. Some are good and some are bad. We weather our way through it and that’s what makes us who we are. It shows development and camaraderie as friends. Those are the most important relationships we make in our lives. I want the audience to see the lyricism and reality of lives made together and also the dangers and frustrations of bourgeois life.”
Sells said he loves the show.
“I’ve always wanted to do it. I think its message is always relevant,” he said. “That’s why it has these modern moments and modern dialogue to more blatantly tell the audience.”
“I think it’s a gorgeous piece,” Tobin added. “It’s intense but necessary. … I think it’s important because there are so many messages that are interconnected. Issues of suicide and abortion, young voices not having the freedom to go anywhere.”
Having once lived in Germany, Deaton said he wanted to keep the design faithful to the period the musical is set in, contrasting it with the contemporary music and dialogue.
With the explicit nature of the show, he said he wanted to cast young adults who could convincingly play 14 and 15 year olds.
“I think in our world, we have changed quite a lot,” he said. “It gives maturity and all of the experience in the performer to sing, and act, and dance and understand what ‘s going on around you. It’s so exciting to see that being simulated through the characters. It’s a strong show because of that. You believe the people are who they say they are.”
“It’s eye opening,” Tobin said of playing Wendla. “It’s not far off from what could happen to anybody. She’s a young innocent girl. She’s learning about the horrors of the world. She deals with quite a lot and she’s growing and learning.”
Seth Allen, who plays Moritz, a troubled teen abused by his parents and teachers, has found the role therapeutic.
“This is the role I’ve always wanted,” Allen said. “It’s personal to me, dealing with anxiety and wanting to be successful. For me getting into the role, I feel I have become more aware. I’ve been dealing with some … anxieties, becoming more aware of my mental health. I want to show the true character. It’s pretty heavy. It’s been helpful.”
He said he hopes audiences learn from watching “Spring Awakening” that everyone has a limit.
“My character … he doesn’t understand the depth of the situation,” he said. “Everyone’s always silently dealing with things. A helping hand is so important to people. One helping hand could save his life. I think that is the case in real life too. They feel alone, they feel unsupported. A little support can go a long way.”
Sells said that is true for all characters in the show.
“Everybody’s got things going on under the surface,” he said. “I’ve dealt with friends who have severe depression and anxiety. I hear them, but I can’t go through what they’re going through. I think that’s what people take away. If somebody is taking the time and energy to tell you how they’re feeling, that’s crazy difficult. You should take the time and give them as much energy to fully listen to them. Not try to solve their problems or fix them, but hear them.”
In relation to Wendla, Tobin said she hopes audiences realize the importance of knowledge and giving young people a voice.
“People don’t tell her the truth,” she said. “Things are happening to her body and it takes a turn because of that. I hope people recognize that. There’s such a thing as providing knowledge without destroying innocence. There’s a lot that can do.”