When I walked into the E.C. Mabie Theatre, I knew I was in for an emotional night. Although I was very familiar with the story and music of Spring Awakening, this was my first experience seeing it. A recipient of eight Tony Awards in 2007, it had a little over a three year run on Broadway. Steven Sater (lyricist and book) and Duncan Sheik (music) have found a way to bring to the musical world Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play by the same title. It is a moving, coming of age story about German students in the late 19th century that brings to light such sensitive subjects as morality, sexuality, abortion, and abuse.
There may be concern as to whether or not this portrayal makes light of these situations, but that is not the case with this production. The lyrics and music are poignant, even hauntingly so. Songs such as, “The Dark I Know Well” and “Whispering” speak of unjust, unimaginable situations, yet they move you to the brink of tears. The music and lyrics coupled with the action and emotion on stage pull at the most empathetic parts of the audience. Interspersed with these heavier, more serious scenes is humor. Just as in life, these characters have found a way to deal with the pain and challenges they endure everyday. With songs such as “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked” we watch and hear the rantings of these coming of age teenagers. Beyond just bringing humor to the show, songs like these resonate with the audience. I found myself nodding in agreement (along with those around me) to lines such as, “Disappear – yeah, well, you wanna try, wanna bundle up into some big ass lie, long enough for them to all just quit, long enough for you to get out of it.” Overall, there is a nice balance achieved as the show delves deeper and deeper into the psyches and situations of the characters.
The show closes with two powerful songs of hope, “Those You’ve Known” and “The Song of Purple Summer.” As the show has progressed and characters have died or given up, these songs stand as a means of hope and inspiration to hang on and take those next frightful steps on the journey of life. This rock musical crosses age, gender, and musical barriers. According to the Spring Awakening website, this musical has also become a medium to open lines of communication for which parents and children have had open conversations about the very issues the adults in the musical are trying to repress and ignore. While not appropriate for young children due to content, language, and nudity the University of Iowa’s production of Spring Awakening was definitely a success.