‘Spring Awakening’ a provocative tale of adolescence
July 25, 2012
Steamboat Springs — In a darkened Julie Harris Theater on Wednesday afternoon, thin streams of stage light accentuated the pained features on the actors' faces.
They were young faces, twisted into anguish, fear, hope and resolve — emotions amplified by the melding of performance art and the stark reality of adolescent transformation.
In "Spring Awakening," which won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical after its debut on Broadway, the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp Pre-Professional Intensive students are acting out feelings they might be having at that very moment, and it led to breakdowns and breakthroughs throughout the six-week production process.
For Steamboat Springs' Mary Willingham, a rising senior at Steamboat Springs High School, the emotional intensity of "Spring Awakening" is a stark contrast to the musical she performed with her local schoolmates this past winter.
Willingham called “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” fun, slapstick and hysterical.
"This show gets into the deep, dark thoughts about adolescence,” she said. “It brings up the things you don't want to think about, and it's amazing that the characters can go there, that the actors can go there."
The themes Willingham and her cast mates are relating to in the show are common threads in the roller coaster of teenage emotions: the loneliness of transitions away from parents and friends, sexual exploration, depression and self-discovery.
"What's happened is truly spectacular," said Victor Maog, Perry-Mansfield's director of theater. "Which is that theater can do something. It can be a mode of entertainment, and it can be the beginning of a truthful conversation."
"Spring Awakening" opens at 8 p.m. Thursday at the school's Julie Harris Theater with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well. Tickets are $25 each. The performance has adult themes and explicit language, but Lena Barker, the only other Steamboat student in the production, said it's a performance that high school-age students should see.
"It's a lot of what I've been going through," said Barker, a rising junior. "It's really emotionally touching, every aspect of it. You just get sucked in."
The show was a hit when it debuted on Broadway and ran on national and international tours. It's rare that a contemporary hit musical is licensed for a performing arts school in rural Colorado, and Maog said Perry-Mansfield needed more than just a licensing application.
"You have to have the vision for what is basically a sort of democratic conversation about what it means to be young," he said. "This is a show that's owned by the students."
Set in late 19th century Germany, the student and teacher characters in the production sing in an alternative rock style. The music was written by Duncan Sheik ("Barely Breathing") and is displayed in the Perry-Mansfield production through a piano-guitar duo that is featured onstage throughout the show. Julie Harris Theater's stage is extended, leaving room for a small audience and the technical crew, which features Broadway lighting designer Yael Lubetzky.
The technical attention to the show is apparent, but it couldn’t overshadow the raw depth of the acting by the students, many of whom are playing young characters in the throes of issues like love, pregnancy, loss and injustice.
Joe Hill, who plays the tragic Moritz, is a sixth-year Perry-Mansfield student from Boulder.
"I end up stuck with no place to go," Hill said about his character. "And I think everyone knows what that feels like.
"Looking at it from the vantage point of my age, it's easy to see why this play is meaningful."
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com