Although many might not associate rock music with the 1890s, one musical aims to combine both elements in an epic coming-of-age tale. Gonzaga University’s “Spring Awakening” will be performed Nov. 16 through Nov. 19 at the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center Coughlin Theatre.
“Spring Awakening is a butterfly in autumn,” Costume Designer Leslie Stamoolis said. “Something beautiful at an unexpected time.”
The eight-time Tony Award winner musical follows teenagers in a small town in Germany as they struggle to understand their sexuality, changing bodies and each other while the adults in their lives provide little guidance or help.
“It centers around the ideas of what it’s like to grow up and not feel listened to or trusted by adults,” senior Rachel Gotvald, who is playing lead Wendla Bergmann, said. “It channels a lot of that teenage angst and there’s lots of fun dancing in it with super energetic songs.”
Spring Awakening is a musical based on a book by Steven Sater with music by Duncan Sheik. It made its Broadway debut in 2006.
“We wanted a musical that would be fun to do, but also engaged with the mission of the College of Arts and Sciences,” director and choreographer Joseph Lyons Wolf said. “Looking at shows that had a strong connection to human rights and social justice, Spring Awakening really quickly rose to the top as we felt it was really timely and connected to a lot of current social-political events in the world.”
Although the musical is set in and based on a play written in 1891, it shows a wide variety of relationships and identities on stage set to rock music.
“It’s still the original plot and a lot of the original content but all of the music is modern-day rock numbers,” junior Hailey O’Hara, who plays all adult female characters, said. “The purpose of trying to combine those two elements together. There’s a lot of humor, there’s a lot of scenes that are gonna make you gasp. I’ve never watched a production of Spring Awakening that didn’t deeply move me.”
While GU’s musical department has stayed largely loyal to the original musical, there have been changes to the original musical including focusing on the lighting, set design and choreography to display more graphic scenes instead of showing them outright.
“As artists and educators, I believe it’s not our job to shield people from difficult topics and subject matter but to safely usher them in and out of those situations,” Lyons-Wolf said. “The way that we do that is through thoughtful artistry, abstraction, and educational resources.”
The students and staff have created personal touches of themselves through lighting and set design, which plays an important role in Spring Awakening.
“Phil Male, our scenic designer, came up with the idea of using doors and windows, all over the stage to kind of represent opportunities, pathways in lives,” Lyons-Wolf said. “When you’re a teenager, you really only have control over your bedroom. Phil had everyone in the cast design their own door for their character, and then he used their designs to influence the painting that’s on the set.”
A musical at this scale wouldn’t be possible without the nearly 100 students working on the production.
“This show is thanks to a huge collaboration with the theater program, the dance program and the music program, as well as campus organizations. So it’s really taken a lot of effort from a lot of people to make this happen,” Lyons-Wolf said.
These efforts include involving a live band, which will be on stage.
“What is different from most musicals where the band is either in the pit or behind the pit, we’re on the stage in costumes and everything,” music director Jardian Tarver said. “The whole idea is to bring music to the stage and have us part of it so it feels like a rock concert.”
The contrast between the lyrics of the songs, the costumes the characters wear and the time period provide a timeless aspect of the music that has led to its continued popularity.
“The right of young people to access information, have autonomy over their bodies and become their truest self is as relevant a social justice issue as ever,” Lyons-Wolf said.
Tickets are $18 dollars for the public and $15 dollars for Gonzaga students and staff. Although the tickets will be sold at the door, it’s recommended to get them ahead of time.
“I think Spring Awakening at its core, is a cautionary tale of the devastation that comes from a lack of compassion towards our youth, but it’s also a celebration of hope and what is possible when we allow our children to spread their wings and become their truest selves,” Lyons-Wolf said. “In this show, our characters are really confined to this small-minded time and they’re under a lot of restrictions. But during each of the songs, they’re able to embody their truest selves, and fully say what they feel.”