Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Awakening . . . the High School Musical

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Being a theatre critic who sees way too much live theatre, people sometimes ask me if there's any one show that I seem to see produced more often than any other. One of the quickest answers ends up being the musical RENT, which I've seen half a dozen different productions of over the years. And though I don't particularly like the musical, I know what makes for a good production . . . and the best that I'd seen was the Greendale Community Theatre production . . . because the people in the cast had a kind of vitality that came with being very, very close in age to the characters they were playing . . . a situation one never finds in a big, professional touring production.

And that's why I'm really excited that Shorewood High School is going to be performing Spring Awakening. . . one of the few musicals I actually like in and of itself, Spring Awakening is based on a late 19th century German expressionist play. The original play was a look at the kind of late 19th century sexual oppressiveness that Freud was always going on about in his theories . . . and the kind of drama that it developed amongst private school kids entering puberty. The musical adaptation covers the same ground as the original play. It's a rock musical with some really great tunes . . . a very energetic and aggressive piece of musical theatre stripped of the kind of weird campiness that so often pervades the genre. 


The Wikipedia entry on the musical mentions that Amateur rights to the musical are now being licensed. It goes on to state that "Depending on the locale, there is often a higher age limit to participants to avoid infringement of child protection laws, as performances involving the underage could be considered child pornography." Indeed. The relatively conservative public high school I went to in northeastern Wisconsin wouldn't dare touch something like this. Staging a production of this for a high school theatre program is a very progressive decision on the part of SHS Drama. 


From the press release:  “' 'The current drama students at SHS are mature, and have performed everything from ‘Avenue Q’ to ‘The Laramie Project,’ so we are confident they will be able to handle the subject matter of ‘Spring Awakening,’ ” Joe King, head of Shorewood’s Drama Department, said."


And just to make things perfectly clear for the uninitiated, here's what the press release has to say about Spring Awakening; 


"While the show deals with controversial material, including teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, child abuse, sexual assault and suicide, Shorewood’s Drama Department is hoping that the musical will become a flashpoint for more open and honest discussions about these important topics among students, parents and community members."


And really, that's the most important thing here: education can't happen without an honest an open dialogue . . . and it's really, really difficult to achieve that if we're keeping everything clean and antiseptic for high school students. Let them tackle the bigger issues now . . . they're going to need to start that kind of education as early as possible. 


Shorewood High School's production of Spring Awakening runs May 10th - 16th at the SHS Auditorium on 1701 East Capitol Drive. Tickets are $10. For more information about tickets, all the Shorewood Box Office at 414-963-6940. 

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