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SC Musical ‘Spring Awakening’ Brings Something Old and Something New

The upcoming Southwestern College production of “Spring Awakening” is both something old and something new in the world of the American musicals, according to Roger Moon, associate professor of theatre and director of the play. 

Performances will be April 7, and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and April 9 at 2 p.m. in the Richardson Performing Arts Center.  Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, and $6 for students.  The musical has mature subject matter and language, and is not for children. For more information or to reserve tickets, contact the SC performing arts office at (620) 221-7720, (620) 229-6272, or email boxoffice@sckans.edu.

Based on an 1891 play, Frank Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening” won eight Tony Awards in 2007.

“Those Tonys were awarded for a good reason,” says Moon, who teaches musical theatre performance and history. “Like ‘Showboat,’ ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ‘Hamilton,’ and other great shows, ‘Spring Awakening’ is in the tradition of musicals with captivating characters in deep struggles with issues that matter deeply to them and to their audiences.” 

Stephen Sater and Duncan Shiek have taken a story with universal challenges and told it with music in a popular style that can resonate with their contemporary audiences, Moon says.  

“‘Spring Awakening’ pushes boundaries beyond any musical we have done here at SC,” says Moon. “Dealing with the journey through adolescent sexuality is clearly serious subject matter.  Adults of my generation and younger have probably experienced it in our youth, and have seen it gradually be addressed in movies, then on television, but didn’t grow up expecting it to be on stage.  Language as mature (and sometimes immature) and graphic as language about sex can be is far from the general audience expectations of the ‘golden age’ of the 1940s to 1960s.”

Adolescents struggling to understand their changing bodies as they sexually mature need not only knowledge and understanding of the physical, mental, emotional, and social changes, but also guidance of parents, teachers, and all those who might help them understand and deal with their world, the director points out. Although “Spring Awakening” is set and costumed in the late 19th century, when the show’s adolescent angst explodes into song it is in 21st century musical theatre alternative punk rock, he says.  

“This is a new style for me, and that is wonderfully challenging,” says Moon, who is a fan of the Golden Age of the American musical.

 “I love musical theatre from Gilbert and Sullivan and George M. Cohan, to Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Cole Porter, and finally to Rogers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Lowe.  I am deeply grounded in those.  But I’ve also come to love Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, William Finn, Yorkey and Kitt, and many, many more,” Moon says. “It is deeply meaningful to identify and connect with all those worlds, with the people, their feelings, and the struggles that we share.  They give great hope; that is what musicals do.”  

Today’s young musical theater performers and audiences know and love “Spring Awakening,” says Moon. The story expresses the difficulties they know and feel as they grow up in a world that sometimes does not allow them enough information from parents and teachers who might give real guidance and support, and they ultimately seek too much information from outside sources. The effects may be as tragic as those in this musical, Moon adds. 

Moon says the choice of a show that pushes boundaries was intentional.

“Southwestern College is committed to education, acknowledging the pillars of hope, courage, freedom and knowledge,” he says. “We are committed to giving our students a wide range of learning experiences, and to bring our campus, community and area audiences a wide range of productions for their learning experience and entertainment as well.”   

“Spring Awakening” is a great project for Southwestern’s new Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre program, says Allyson Moon, SC’s director of theatre, and co-creator of the new BFA program with Brian Winnie, of SC’s music department.  “The students need to study, be exposed to, and be challenged to learn and perform the widest range of musical theatre styles.  In recent years our students have had the chance to perform musicals from the traditional styles of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, to book musicals as varied as ‘Sweeney Todd’, Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ and ‘Hairspray.’  They have done musicals from ‘Willy Wonka’ to ‘Next to Normal.’  ‘Spring Awakening’ will be followed by a summer of family musicals which will soon be announced.”  

“Though I’m old and old-fashioned in many ways,” Roger concludes, “it is important to understand today’s students and their perspectives and struggles, and to find the way to stage and communicate their stories, to their friends, families, teachers, and community.  With this year’s Pillar’s Project theme of ‘knowledge,’ what is more important than the basic understanding of the journey young people make through what the ‘Spring Awakening’ youth call the ‘spring’s dark blue shadows,’ so that they might reap fruitful and healthy lives in the mature ‘purple summer’ of life?”

 

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