JANESVILLE— Though set in the late 19th century, U-Rock Theatre’s newest musical is anything but classical.
The University of Wisconsin-Rock County’s Theatre program will be performing “Spring Awakening.”
The show runs from Feb. 24 - March 5, with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays in the Kirk Denmark Theatre in the Wells Cultural Center. Tickets are available at the door and cost $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and are free for UW-Rock County students.
Based in Germany, Director Trevor Rees said the show tells the story of teens in a society that’s very strict. It’s a rock musical about teens exploring their sexualities in a very conservative time.
“There’s some great moments in the play where you have these scenes where it shows their lifestyle, but then it breaks away, and then we’re in this musical world,” Rees said. “In the Broadway version they had microphones to show the electric feeling going on within them.”
The musical is based on a play written by German dramatist Frank Wedekind that was first performed in 1906.
The play was then adapted to a Broadway musical in 2006, with music by Duncan Sheik and a book and lyrics by Steven Sater. The original cast included Skylar Astin, who went on to star in both “Pitch Perfect” films, and Lea Michele, who starred in the television show “Glee.”
Actor Adam Medina said the rock music has a stark contrast from the plot about German Catholic schools kids living in the later 19th century.
“They will eventually grow up to be in the time of Hitler’s regime, but the music is completely contemporary. It’s not fitting with the time,” Medina said. “It’s completely rock, and it’s a very interesting thing to incorporate with a story that can be so removed in its time line from us.”
He said the character’s parents, school board and teachers are very strict.
However, Medina’s character Melchoir is very intelligent. Due to his mother’s leniency, Melchoir had the opportunity to read books and explore more than the other children.
“He’s kind-of like the rebel of the group, but he’s doing it soundly and intelligently,” Medina said. “He’s not a ruffian or anything. He’s regarded as one of the finest pupils in the school.”
Medina said he relates to the character’s feelings of being sheltered but then breaking out to explore life, making new discoveries and going against the grain.
However, Medina said he doesn’t want to relate to Melchoir’s arrogance and over-confidence in his knowledge and position, because it ends up getting Melchior into trouble.
“That’s something I worry I become sometimes,” Medina said, concerned Medina’s confidence might lead him to do something wrong.
Actress Taylabai Anderson said she was drawn to the play to investigate how tragedy was going to play into a musical.
Anderson plays Martha, who is suffering abuse at the hands of her parents. Anderson said Martha connects to the character Isla.
Isla is a survivor of domestic abuse who lives on her own after being thrown out for telling others about her abuse.
“(Isla) is everything Martha is scared of being. She’s everything that everyone is scared of being, because she’s a symbol of freedom almost, not following the constraints of society,” Martha said.
Martha is not sure if she should tell people about her abuse. She doesn’t want to end up like Isla but also doesn’t want to stay in her abusive environment.
“The freedom Isla is offering is the freedom of not knowing what to do,” Anderson said. “They’re too young to understand what to do with their life or how to protect themselves, and so although Isla has escaped this abuse and torment she suffered from her parents, she’s trapped herself in this area she doesn’t know how to get out of. Every day she could die or go hungry.”
Rees warns that the musical contains strong language and mature themes.
“It’s something that you probably won’t want to bring your kids to,” Rees said. “There is a lot of swear words. You do see a lot of sexual themes as well, which kind-of gives it that edge.”
He said there were more than 35 people who auditioned for roles.
“Most of the people have heard of ‘Spring Awakening.’ We have several cast members who have always wanted to do the show,” Rees said. “We’ve got a really well-rounded cast who fit the roles perfectly.”
He said the cast is comprised of actors from UW-Rock County, UW-Whitewater, some who are briefly out of high school and some older community members who are a part of the production.
“It’s a community effort,” Rees said.
Rees said the musical is giving a chance for the students to do a musical that features alternative rock.
“That way, they can add that to their repertoire going forward if they decide to do theater later on,” Rees said. “In educational theater, you want to make sure students are getting what they need so if they want to continue on in the theater, they can use those skills whether it’s a classical piece or a rock musical like this with a great story line.”
Medina has been doing plays and musicals since seventh grade and has been in three productions at UW-Rock County. Anderson has been in five productions at the college.