Spring Awakening

April 5, 2012.
By John Townsend, Lavender Magazine.

When German playwright Frank Wedekind penned his milestone 1891 drama on adolescent sexuality, he never could have imagined that Spring Awakening would also become a groundbreaking Broadway rock musical in 2007. Peter Rothstein now directs that winner of eight Tonys’ first local production presented by Theater Latté Da in partnership with the University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, renowned and beloved for its more classic approach to musicals.

Music director Denise Prosek says Duncan Sheik’s score, more hardcore than any of her previous Latté Da work, is “driven by the rhythm section, especially the guitar. The songs are contemporary, alt-rock, and they live in a groove intended to create an emotional atmosphere rather than a story-driven exploration. The rhythm, harmony, and melody range from hypnotic to driving rock beats. The band consists of drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, and cello. We rehearsed with a real piano for the first couple of weeks and now we’re using a keyboard. The difference in the tone with the electronic sound made all the difference in the intention of the piece. It has to live in the instruments of the rock world.”

Jack Tillman and Grant Sorenson play gay characters Ernst and Hanschen. (Sorenson actually directed a superb revival of Wedekind’s drama for the 2008 Minnesota Fringe Festival.) The set-up is that Ernst struggles with his schoolwork. As Tillman observes “when Hanschen, one of the most intelligent boys in the class, wants to be his friend and helps him with his schoolwork, he’s extraordinarily surprised, but relieved and pleased. He feels like he’s fitting in, even though most of the other children don’t care for Hanschen much. Ernst doesn’t care because Hanschen makes him feel special. And because of this, he begins to fall for him, which is something completely foreign and unknown to him. He’s never had anyone interested in him before and doesn’t know what these feelings mean, especially towards another male. While the kiss that they share shatters Ernst’s preconceived notions about his future and what he wants, he’s okay with it. He may be scared, but it’s better than anything else he’s had in the past.”

Sorenson points out that “Hanschen uses his intelligence to cover up the insecurity he feels inside. He puts on airs of being above everything—his classmates and teachers—so that he doesn’t ever appear weak or vulnerable. So then, when he finally finds a boy who falls for him, like Ernst does, it’s this mixture of satisfying victory and ‘what do I do now’ nervousness.”