“Spring Awakening” will very likely take most people out of their comfort zone. As one of the cast members, Andy Mientus, put it, “The show is not just an entertaining night out.”
The winner of eight Tonys, including Best Musical of 2008, “Spring Awakening” comes to Proctors in Schenectady for eight performances, opening Tuesday night at 8 and closing next Sunday at 7 p.m. Mientus plays Hanschen, one of a number of teenagers growing up in late 19th century Germany who are both exploring and questioning their sexuality.
“The play pushes a lot of buttons and goes places other Broadway musicals wouldn’t dare to go,” said Mientus, who has been with the national touring production since it opened in August of 2008.
Click here to read Gazette theater writer Matthew G. Moross' review.
“We don’t sugarcoat things; it’s frank and it’s honest, and we get a range of reactions from people. If they didn’t know what they were in for, then some of them may have some trouble with it.”
The issues are real ones, according to Mientus, and they include homosexuality, rape, abortion, masturbation, bondage, child abuse and suicide. The message, at least in his view, is a clear one.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $65-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org
“A lot of issues are addressed, but we’re not pro or con anything,” he said, “except that we’re pro-communication. We’ve seen what happens to kids when they don’t get the information necessary to know what’s going on with them. There has to be positive and open communication between the younger generation and the older generation, and what kids have to know is that these things that happen to them happen to everyone. It’s not because they’re sick or sinful or wrong. It’s all a natural part of growing up.”
“Spring Awakening” is the rock musical adaptation of a play written by German playwright Frank Wedekind in 1891. It was banned in Germany for nearly a century. Then Duncan Sheik (the music) and Steven Sater (book and lyrics) grabbed the piece and mounted an off-Broadway production in May of 2006 at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York. It opened on Broadway in December of 2006 and closed 888 performances later in January of 2009.
“Honestly, it’s not a pleasant way to spend an evening,” said Mientus. “It’s going to make you think, and you’re not going to walk out of the theater and forget that you saw it. But to me it’s a very important piece of theater. My first reaction when I saw it as a teenager was how authentic and true it really was. I immediately got it on the visceral level, and since then I’ve continued to consider it and think about how artful it was done. Now I really get it on the cerebral level as well.”
Mientus, now 23, was 19 when he first saw the play off-Broadway.
“It was so different than anything else I had seen, and I had always been a fan of rock music,” said Mientus. “But I’m especially a fan of the alt-rock that Duncan writes, and being a fan of that and of American theater, I thought this play was a great way to tell a story. It’s a great marriage of those two things. It was like seeing ‘Tommy’ or ‘Rent,’ but it was also with the kind of music, alt-rock, that you could hear on any college radio station. To put that into a musical was wonderful. It’s a great art form.”
Mientus was such a fan of “Spring Awakening” he created his own Facebook page focusing on the musical, and it is now the official Facebook page for all things relating to the show. Mientus grew up in Pittsburgh, and spent much of his young life “playing baseball and going outside and getting dirty,” before his mother put him in a play in middle school.
“My mom had a notion I might be good at it, but I think I resisted for a while,” said Mientus. “Then in middle school I did a play and I guess I got some positive feedback that helped me keep doing some more. Then I did the standard high school musicals, the ones that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to a teenage boy. I don’t think I was really into it, however, until I saw ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Rent,’ and I realized that musicals could be more than just those productions with the cheesy show tunes. I realized you could sing to energize yourself, and that musicals could be very powerful and moving if they were handled seriously.”
Mientus went to the University of Michigan but was cast in “Spring Awakening” during his junior year.
“I’m going to ride this out and then go back and finish school when it’s convenient,” said Mientus. “If I get kind of busy, well, it will be a good busy and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
This tour of “Spring Awakening” ends in May, when Mientus will head to New York City and again begin the audition process.
“We’re traveling around and it’s a lot of work, but we’re also having the time of our lives,” he said. “We’re all going to be looking for new projects soon, and I’m looking forward to going to New York and living my life and exposing myself to more theater. New York’s the biggest and best city in the world.”
While he is now eight years older than the character he plays, Mientus feels it isn’t a problem.
“I have a baby face, and I still get carded whereever I go,” he said. “I could probably play the part for a few more years.”
The national tour, like the Broadway production, is getting universal praise around the country. The New York Times called it “brave, haunting and electrifying,” USA Today said it was “beautiful, exhilarating and vital,” and The Washington Post labeled it “spellbinding.”
“It’s a show that might totally galvanize you and change the way you think,” said Mientus. “I thought it was great that the guys who wrote our beautiful adaptation chose to keep it in Germany in the 1890s. People might think we’re doing this to shock modern audiences, but the play was first done in Germany way back then, and now we’re matching it up with a very modern and contemporary rock score. The juxtaposition of those two time periods is fascinating, and maybe we’ve learned that we haven’t really come that far in that time.”