Whether it be 19th Century Germany or 21st Century America, the road to self-discovery is never easy. This year’s Muir Musical production of Spring Awakening highlighted tribulations of adolescence while critiquing the paternalistic system that permits and sometimes even perpetuates youth struggles.
Spring Awakening is a musical adapted from a German play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891. This controversial story revolves around a group of teenagers who seem to be searching for answers in regard to their sexuality. The play opens with Wendla Bergmann and her mother having a painfully awkward and vague conversation about how babies are conceived: a scene crucial to both the ending and overall message of the story.
As the play continued, we are introduced to a diverse set of stories: a forbidden love affair between Wendla and Melchior Gabor, Moritz Stiefel’s existential puberty driven existential crisis, Hanschen and Ernst’s sexual explorations, and Martha’s physical abuse by her father. Because the play jumps to and from these dialogues, the audience is immediately immersed in an overwhelming pool of struggle. However, this discomfort is exactly what the play aims to achieve.
Spring Awakening is raw and honest in its intention, choosing to illuminate these struggles as the result of a system constantly trying to be clean and polished. These narratives, though diverse, bleed into each other as we slowly realize that these struggles are much more similar than we initially thought.
Because much of these battles are internal, this year’s Muir Musical director, Nicole McEntee, decided to incorporate dancers to mirror the characters’ thoughts.
“I felt dance would be the perfect means to really physicalize the emotions and thoughts of the characters as they discover themselves,” she said.
The dance ensemble, consisting of Karlee Garcia, Martha Sheets, Erin Li, Andres Lagang, and Clay Holub, added another emotional layer to Spring Awakening. Understanding what each character is going through is different than understanding how each character feels. By adding dancers to this production, the audience was able to fully understand and engage in both.
Along with the dancing, the live orchestra playing pop-rock music further added to the audience’s experience. Slower songs like “The Dark I Know Well” and “Whispering” propel us into the character’s minds, while “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked” bring us back out into the merciless world. Regardless, all tracks emphasized the actors’ immense passion and vocal talent. The final song, “The Song of Purple Summer,” leaves the audience in awe as the full cast performs what McEntee describes as “the anthem of hope.”
Because Spring Awakening highlights unspoken truths, some scenes are graphic and utterly painful to watch. The musical forces us to wallow in our discomfort and question why certain things are “off-limits” to talk about. Spring Awakening encourages discussion, rather than silence, of topics we consider personal: sex and mental health. “We cannot keep shaming people for struggling. We all struggle. People should be free to ask questions and explore their identity,” McEntee said.
With this in mind, this year’s Muir Musical organization hosted “talk-backs” after some of their shows. These talk-backs consisted of the cast and crew answering the audience’s questions about the musical’s content, the actors’ personal experiences in relation to the play, and different methods of production. By providing an open space for discussion, Muir Musical has done exactly what Spring Awakening’s message encourages us all to do: share, listen, and struggle together.
With beautiful choreography and contemporary music, this year’s Muir Musical production was unforgettably inventive. The choice of Spring Awakening was strategic and crucial to the lives of many students here on campus. By reflecting on the unanswered questions, unspoken thoughts, and undeniable desires of our adolescent years, the play compels us to examine the power structures that govern our everyday lives.
“What would it look like to simply accept people for who they are, truly love them, and walk with them in their journey?” said McEntee.
I personally don’t think we can know what absolute compassion looks like. However, I think we can imagine what it feels like and that is undeniably comforting. Spring Awakening chronicles the many problems of society and unjust morale of the government, but also promises us the future — a new season of warmth, light, and peace.
Ana Magallanes is the Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Triton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.