In 2006, the 1892 play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind was ‘reawakened’ as a rocky, rebellious Broadway musical. It ran for three years, and in 2009 London’s West End was treated to four months of raucous laughter, unexpected sentimentality, and an incredible soundtrack. I was instantly captured by the brash, confident nature of the play and its actors – breaking a lot of theatrical convention by providing the soloists with hand-held microphones, and using audience blinder lights on the sides of the stage to give a bizarre, concert spin on the German play, the adaptation by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik was relevant to a 21st Century audience, and had me humming to rather naughty lyrics all the way home. It was big, bold, and utterly breathtaking – like no musical I’d ever seen before.
Jump forward to 2011, and the small but spirited Greenwich Theatre. Sell A Door theatre company tackled the ambitious musical score and true spectacle of Sater’s version with an incredibly limited budget, but with real heart and understanding of Wedekind’s words. The set did not have the multiple picture frames and ceiling of light bulbs like its predecessor, but rather a simple image of window frames, swings, and a tree were the perfect back drop in the more intimate venue. As well as this, the action revolved around various ‘brick’ walls which the actors moved to create rooms, benches, and platforms. For a company who cannot rival the resources of the West End, their production was no less impressive, and carried a closer emotional energy that really connected with its audience.
This year, the 3rd Year Musical Theatre Students of the Guildford School of Acting put on the play in the Ivy Arts Centre. This was the only production to use an actual interior set, complete with black-and-white checked flooring, ceiling lamps, and cleverly gauzed windows that gave us a glimpse of the spectacular orchestra. With harmonies that could easily rival any professional company, and the use of blackboards as scenery to express the child within Spring Awakening, this production was fresh and inspired.
Upon first read, the original play can be considered a little dry and political, with its comically named teachers and obvious moral statements. But the rock-musical adaptation transforms it into an accessible and moving production, which has been taken on by actors from all parts of the professional spectrum. Any performance is a must-see.
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