The musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and direction by Michael Mayer, began performances May 19 at Atlantic Theater Company's Chelsea mainstage, a converted church building that informs the world of the play — Judeo-Christian rules, middle-class morality and academic pressures help crush the spirits of a group of teenagers in the European-set story.
The tale is drawn from Frank Wedekind's expressionistic 1891 drama about an adult world of parents, clergy and teachers who keep young people the dark — and then punish them for being adrift in the night.
Timely as today's headlines — more than 100 years after the scandalous play, kids are still committing suicide, getting pregnant, hurting each other — the work's universality is underlined by what Mayer calls a "garage band" quality to some of the musical numbers. Dressed in a period clothing, the kids pull out hand microphones to rant and express themselves. The periods blur.
The lyrics aim to be poetic, searching and sensual, Mayer told Playbill.com. He said the effect of Sater's free-flowing, non-showtuney verse is that they suggest sentiments the kids might have scrawled in the margins of their lesson books.
Choreography is by Bill T. Jones (The Seven), whose visual language begins with the image of a girl touching her body, perhaps in front of a mirror. Given the sexual content of the story, the ritualistic movements Jones assigns to the kids are often above-the-waist. It suggests an 1891 version of Madonna's "vogueing," and seems to underline the play's metaphor of physical exploration. The highly theatrical production shows the band in full view upstage. The set is occupied by hard-backed chairs, and some audience members (in inexpensive seats) are placed on stage, in rows that flank the action. The young actors occasionally join the audience in those rows, strengthening the feeling of the insular community that is inherent in the Wedekind source material. (For the record, the on-stage audience members are unmolested by the actors and are not a part of the main action. Audience participation is not the goal.)
Two middle-aged actors — Tony winner Frank Wood (Side Man, Hollywood Arms) and Atlantic veteran Mary McCann (The Old Neighborhood) — represent the adult world. The young cast is largely unknown: Skylar Astin, Lilli Cooper, John Gallagher Jr. (Rabbit Hole), Gideon Glick, Jonathan Groff (In My Life), Brian Johnson, Lea Michele (Fiddler on the Roof), Lauren Pritchard, Phoebe Strole, Jonathan B. Wright, Remy Zaken.
Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Michael Mayer recently made his film directing debut with another tale of troubled young love — "A Home at the End of the World." He also directed the upcoming teen-friendly movie, "Flicka," the remake of the beloved tale of a girl who tames a horse.
Mayer directed Broadway's Side Man, A View From the Bridge, An Almost Holy Picture, After the Fall, Triumph of Love, Uncle Vanya, The Lion in Winter, Thoroughly Modern Millie and the recent 'night, Mother.
According to Atlantic Theater Company, "Based on Frank Wedekind's masterpiece The Awakening of Spring, Spring Awakening is the contemporary musical adaptation of one of literature's most controversial plays. [It] boldly depicts a dozen young people and how they make their way through the thrilling, complicated, confusing and mysterious time of their sexual awakening. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's score features songs that illuminate the urgency of adolescent self-discovery, the burning intensity of teen friendships and the innate suspicion of the uncomprehending adult world. The story centers around a brilliant young student named Melchior (Jonathan Groff), his troubled friend Moritz (John Gallagher Jr.) and Wendla (Lea Michele), a beautiful young girl on the verge of womanhood."
The creative team includes Christine Jones (sets), Susan Hilferty (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting), Brian Ronan (sound). Vocal arrangements are by AnnMarie Milazzo. Music director is Kimberly Grigsby.
The musical is presented by Atlantic Theater Company in association with producers Tom Hulce and Ira Pittelman.
The limited not-for-profit engagement of Spring Awakening plays through July 9.
Grammy Award nominee Sheik's albums include "Duncan Sheik" (Atlantic Records, 1996), which became a certified Gold Record; "Humming" (Atlantic, 1998); "Phantom Moon" (Nonesuch Records, 2001); "Daylight" (Atlantic Records, 2002); and "White Limousine" (January, 2006).
He was Grammy Award nominated in 1997 in the category of Best Male Vocal.
Sheik composed original music for the Public Theater's 2002 Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night.
Sater's plays include Carbondale Dreams, Perfect for You, Doll, Umbrage, A Footnote to the Iliad, Asylum, Murder at the Gates, In Search of Lost Wings and a version of The Tempest with music by Laurie Anderson. He is the lyricist for Sheik's critically acclaimed album "Phantom Moon." They wrote songs for Mayer's film, "A Home at the End of the World."
Spring Awakening plays Tuesday through Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM.
All tickets are $60 and available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visiting Telecharge.com. For groups, call (212) 691-5919, ext. 1092.
At every performances there will be 18 seats on sale for $10 each. Those seats are located on stage "mingled in among the actors." Tickets may be reserved in advance by calling (646) 216-1119 or may be purchased at the box office (336 West 20th Street) two hours prior to curtain.
For more information, visit www.atlantictheater.org.