One of the more electrifying productions in recent Broadway history is about to take the stage in Philadelphia.
The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Spring Awakening” makes its area debut June 23 at the Academy of Music.
Based on the 1891 Frank Wedekind play, “Spring Awakening” opened on Broadway in 2006 featuring a score by singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik and choreography by the openly gay, award-winning dancer Bill T. Jones. At the 2007 Tony Awards, it won eight of its 11 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Director and Best Choreography.
Set in late 19th-century Germany, “Spring Awakening” is a provocative story of youthful rebellion, discovery and sexuality as three teenagers struggle with the pressures and misinformation from the repressive adult world.
Most of the teenage characters are very misinformed about sex and the ways of the world, but producer Tom Hulce said it doesn’t mean younger and savvier audiences won’t relate to the characters and their struggles.
“Young people have more information but they necessarily don’t have more emotional experience,” he said. “There’s a difference between the facts you can get on the Internet and actual experience. I don’t think much has changed in terms of going through it with someone for the first time. And it deals with all kinds of firsts: your first loves, your first best friend, your first failure and your first loss. It’s not really all about whether or not you get information. It’s about how you navigate all the major experiences that time of your life offers.”
Sexual discovery also gets a gay nod when two of the secondary characters, Hanschen and Ernst, hook up amid the ongoing dramatic events.
“They each have minor storylines,” Hulce said. “It’s a running thread through the piece. There’s one incredibly delicious scene that they have in the second half.”
The setting might be in the 19th century, but the music of “Spring Awakening” is far more contemporary. Hulce credits in part the gripping rock ’n’ roll numbers of the play for its rise in popularity.
“The soundtrack has been the way that people who have seen the show communicate with other people who haven’t,” he said. “It’s been a phenomenal vehicle for people understanding that it’s something they’d like to see. It’s the thing that happens now because you can go on YouTube and see all the numbers from the show and you can go to iTunes and sample a song or two. The music has been an amazing kind of front event for the show, as well as word of mouth.”
Combining rock music and dancing under the umbrella of a serious and sometimes dark-themed period piece can’t be the easiest thing to pull off night after night, but Hulce contends the complex nature of the show brings out the best in the onstage talent.
“It’s a pretty phenomenal company that’s doing the tour,” he said. “‘Complicated’ makes an actor and people happy because there’s a challenge every night. There’s something new about every night. I think the fact that the show is as unusual as it is allows the performances to remain so fresh. It’s not unlike ‘West Side Story’ in its time. It was very avant-garde at the time. It had some serious subject matter. It had some gorgeous music. It does require everyone to be on their toes.”
It appears “Spring Awakening” has been keeping audiences on their toes the world over, as it has been playing internationally since last year in places like Sweden, Budapest, Korea, Denmark, Austria and the U.K.
“All over the world, the response has exceeded our expectations,” Hulce said. “I think it is both because the score is so glorious, but also because it’s a time that every one of us has gone through as we learn about the world and find out who we want to be in it. It’s the last time that everything is possible. So the fact that it’s both incredibly thrilling and a heartbreaking time is part of what makes it so accessible to any one of any age.”
“Spring Awakening” runs June 23-28 at Kimmel’s Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, visit www.kimmelcenter.org or call (215) 790-5847. n