A punk rock adaptation of an 1891 German modernist drama might not, at first blush, seem to be a recipe for Broadway success. So when writer Steven Sater and musician Duncan Sheik created a musical out of Frank Wedekind’s 1918 play "Spring Awakening," few could have predicted the critical and cult success that the resulting show would achieve (winning the Tony Award for best musical, among numerous accolades).
Given that "Spring Awakening" is an exploration of teenage sexuality, it seems both a natural fit and a potentially controversial choice for high schools and colleges to stage. This month, the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas is producing the musical, running Nov. 6-24 in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre.
To learn more about UT’s production, and to understand what it’s like staging this show with a young cast of students, we talked with director Anna Skidis Vargas, an M.F.A. in directing candidate in the department.
RELATED: Changos Taqueria near UT campus closing after 21 years
"This show is a great way to show off the incredibly talented actors here at the University of Texas, and let them sink their teeth into some difficult, weighty material," Vargas says. "‘Spring Awakening’ is such a great musical for actors in this age range; they have so much energy and tenderness to give to songs like ‘Bitch of Living’ and ‘Dark I Know Well.’" (This Q&A has been trimmed for length.)
American-Statesman: When it first ran on Broadway, "Spring Awakening" amassed a cult following and launched the careers of several actors who are now mainstays of both stage and screen (including Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele and Skylar Astin). Is there any pressure producing a relatively recent show with an original run that's still so firmly entrenched in the public consciousness?
Anna Skidis Vargas: I feel more excitement than pressure. It’s exciting to work on a show that has been so well received and well loved by so many. I think the pressure I feel is an internal pressure to ensure that all of the artists involved feel listened to and supported, and to tell a beautiful story that audiences are sure to connect to; the pressure to make this "Spring Awakening" the best it can be.
MUSIC: Always a rock star! Pink defies gravity at F1 performance
"Spring Awakening" is a show about adolescence and youth, and in this production many of the performers may still be young enough to be dealing with a lot of those issues. How do you navigate reflecting on these concerns while working with performers who may not have the same distance as you?
The issues we’re tackling in "Spring Awakening" are an exploration of humanity through the lens of adolescence, but I don’t feel as though there’s much distance from the content in "Spring Awakening" (even though I’m firmly in my thirties). I think that sex and heartbreak and joy and the longing we all feel to connect are part of being alive. The best thing that we can do is dive in, and treat the material and each other with respect. We have put a major focus on self-care and mental health in and out of the rehearsal room because of the content, but this is a good practice with any production.
Is there anything else you'd like audience members to know about "Spring Awakening"?
YES. The performers, designers, and production team are making pure magic. I could not have asked for a better team for "Spring Awakening."