Spring Awakening Fades Off-Broadway, But an Uptown Bloom Is Coming

News   Spring Awakening Fades Off-Broadway, But an Uptown Bloom Is Coming
 
The anxious, hormonal, grasping teens of the new Duncan Sheik-Steven Sater musical Spring Awakening are going dormant Aug. 5, but not for long.

Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening.
Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening. Photo by Monique Carboni

The Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company production ends its extended run (the final performances Saturday Aug. 5 are expected to be sold out) but producers Ira Pittelman and Tom Hulce, with partners, will move the show to Broadway in 2006-07. A theatre, casting and other details have not been made public, but the creative team led by Michael Mayer and cast members of the world premiere Atlantic run will be part of the Broadway life.

(Lea Michele, who plays Wendla, will appear as Eponine on Broadway this fall in Les Misérables, and Jonathan Groff, who plays Melchior, has been announced for Godspell at Paper Mill Playhouse this fall.)

The Broadway plan for Spring Awakening was announced in July. A cast album is in the works and will be a major calling card to the sexual-coming-of-age show that boasts pop and rock rhythms that seem to match the confused emotions of the yearning teen characters whose parents, teachers and spiritual leader keep them in ignorance. (The adult characters have hardly any musical presence in the show.)

The musical is based on the 1891 expressionist German drama The Awakening of Spring (also known under other titles) by Frank Wedekind.

* Spring Awakening will be the Atlantic's second Broadway transfer this year, following The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Pittelman's long-time producing partner Emanuel Azenberg will serve as general manager for the production on Broadway.

Ira Pittelman said in a statement, "We're really pleased that this exciting and unique production will now reach a much wider audience. Duncan, Steven and Michael have created a musical experience that's very special and we are proud that this new work is on its way to Broadway. While we continue to have discussions with additional partners and theater owners to firm up our plans, one thing is very clear: we WILL move this show to Broadway."

The musical about troubled teens opened to positive reviews from critics, who welcomed the show as something new and vigorously different.

Spring Awakening will join previously announced Off-Broadway transfer Grey Gardens (which began at Playwrights Horizons) on the Great White Way, making the 2006-07 Broadway season a ripe one for unorthodox, boundary-breaking musicals.

*

Sheik's throbbing, evocative alternative pop music accompanies the hormonal rhythms of the adolescent heart in the new musical, which opened at Off-Broadway's Atlantic June 15.

The musical has book and lyrics by Steven Sater and direction by Michael Mayer Previews began May 19. ATC's Chelsea mainstage is 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 explores an adult world of parents, clergy and teachers who keep young people in 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.

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.

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 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."

For more information, visit www.atlantictheater.org.

John Gallagher, Jr., Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele
John Gallagher, Jr., Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele
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