The coming-of-age musical “Spring Awakening” transports audiences into the lives of teenagers more than a century ago through performances of rock-style music.
Jessica Zack, who is directing the show at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale today through Sunday, said the show is based on a play by the same name.
“It follows a group of teenagers in 1890s Germany as they’re going through puberty and having romantic relationships for the first time,” Zack said. “They’re all trying to figure (their lives) out on their own, without any guidance.”
Grammy-nominated musician Duncan Sheik wrote the music, winning Tony Awards in 2006 for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations for the show.
Lead characters include Melchior, played by Josh Brady of Connellsville; Wendla, played by Grace Phillips of Pittsburgh and Moritz, played by Eric Smith of Scottdale.
Phillips described her character, 14-year-old Wendla, as “very innocent and a rule-follower.”
While she’s never done the show before, Phillips said it was a “brave choice,” given its complexity.
Zack said the play has some serious themes in it, including suicide and abuse. She said it’s appropriate for those age 16 and up; younger if the child is more mature.
While there are heavy moments in the show, there are also light ones, showing the ups and downs that are typical of what it’s like to be a teenager, she said.
The rock music, which may seem a stark contrast to the play’s setting in 1890s Germany, reflects the inner voice of the characters, according to Phillips.
“The rock music, I think, is very much these teenagers inside thoughts in their heads,” said Phillips, a computer science major at Seton Hill University. “They can’t release their anger because their parents wouldn’t accept it during that time, so they do it through their rock songs.”
That juxtaposition, said Smith, is what drew a lot of attention to the show.
“You hear it and think, that’s not supposed to be there, but it’s really, really good,” he said.
Smith’s character, Moritz, is innocent and unsure of himself, looking to his friend and classmate Melchior for direction.
“A lot of the parents that are shown in the show aren’t necessarily open with teaching their children how relationships go,” Smith said.
As a result, students are sheltered from the intimacy that can come with burgeoning teenage relationships.
Melchior, said Brady, has a more progressive mother, and is more worldly. Brady described the character as a free-thinking rebel who challenges ideas in school and gets into a bit of trouble for it.
“In a way, (“Spring Awakening”) is a coming-of-age story. These characters are figuring out if a lot of what they’re being told by teachers and parents is wrong,” he said.
Zack said she’s incredibly excited to direct the production because it speaks to her personally.
Her upbringing – going to a Christian school and being a bit sheltered – made her identify with the plot, and the struggles and triumphs of the characters trying to figure out their lives.
“This is a dream show for me,” she said.
The show was originally set for last year, but COVID-19 scuttled those plans.
Smith said the shutdown was “heartbreaking.”
When the GPAC reopened for performances earlier this year, they found that audiences were just as excited to be back as those who present the shows were.
“And that’s the beauty of theater,” Smith said, “whether you’re a performer or audience member you come to have an amazing time.”
“Spring Awakening” will be performed today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door, or through the GPAC website, geyerpac.com.
The theater is located at 111 Pittsburgh St., Scottdale.