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UMW’s ‘Spring Awakening’: A rock musical to awaken the senses

By Bridget Balch

Based on the title, “Spring Awakening” may sound like a strange choice of musical to put on as the days grow colder and shorter, but with the dark and sensitive themes that this dramatic rock musical tackles, the looming winter might just be an appropriate setting.

The University of Mary Washington’s Department of Theatre and Dance brings this multiple award-winning musical rendition of a polemical 19th-century German play to the Klein Theatre stage through Nov. 24.

“Spring Awakening” tells the story of several adolescent schoolgirls and -boys in an extremely conservative pre-1900 Germany, wrestling with the confusion, frustration and guilt they feel about their changing bodies and budding sexual desires. 
Addressing such sensitive topics as physical abuse, exploring sexuality, rape, abortion and suicide, this production packs a serious punch to the emotional gut.

“They’re very universal themes,” said Nicholas McGovern, a senior and theater major at UMW who plays Melchior Gabor, the rebellious schoolboy who challenges the adults’ imposed limitations and encourages his classmates to indulge their sexual desires.
“They’re still very prevalent problems dealing with growing up,” McGovern added.

“There are stories within the story that I think people can parallel with.”
Mixing such intense, dramatic themes and a 19th-century setting with a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack is yet another element that makes this musical radical.

But with risk comes reward. With book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik and an original Broadway cast including “Glee” stars Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, “Pitch Perfect’s” Skylar Astin and John Gallagher Jr. of “The Newsroom,” “Spring Awakening” boasts Tony Awards for “Best Musical,” “Best Original Score” and “Best Featured Actor in a Musical,” among many others.
“The music is extraordinary,” said Gregg Stull, a professor and chairman of the theatre, dance and music departments, as well as the musical’s director.

“It’s stunning because it’s different for musical theater.”
Stull said that in most musicals, the songs and lyrics continue the story, whereas in “Spring Awakening,” the songs are a pause in the action and provide insight into the characters’ thoughts.
In spite of the musical’s dark subject matter and painful scenes, the audience is left with a moral that resonates long after the final curtain has fallen.

“I think there’s a pretty universal theme about showing a bit more sensitivity and compassion for younger people,” McGovern said, “[and a message] to be brave enough to love somebody before you judge them.”
“Great theater leaves the audience with more questions,” Stull added. “It’s a dark, provocative play, but it’s really quite beautiful in many respects. I hope that the questions are there and people feel some sense of redemption and hope at the end.”


What: The University of Mary Washington Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Spring Awakening”

Where: University of Mary Washington, duPont Hall’s Klein Theatre

When: Nov. 14–16 and Nov. 21–23 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 2 p.m. Post-performance discussion will follow the 2 p.m. Nov. 16 performance.
Cost: $24 general admission, $20 for students, military and senior citizens
Info: 540/654-1111;

Bridget Balch: 540/374-5417 /