One may be forgiven for seeing similarities between the stage musical Spring Awakening and the American Pie movie franchise. There are no fruit pastries in Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s rock musical, but there are enough teenaged sexual discoveries in the upcoming Studio 58 production to make even the most jaded Stiflers take notice.
A more serious exploration of teen sex than Hollywood’s low-brow comedic take, the Tony Award–winning Spring Awakening puts a rock twist on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play of the same name while continuing to cover a wide range of taboos, including abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, child abuse and suicide.
Wedekind’s original version was banned because of its explicit themes, and the new rock version still carries age warnings designed to avoid potential child-pornography charges. But that didn’t deter Langara College’s professional theatre school. Artistic director Kathryn Shaw says her students cheered when she first floated the idea of performing Spring Awakening.
“The music is such an anthem for young people that we can really relate to,” explains Dominic Duchesne. He plays Hanschen, one of two gay characters in the show, and shares a passionate onstage kiss with co-star Alexander Strong.
“It resonates with them,” director David Hudgins agrees, “as the characters speak their truth or imagine where they could get to, what they dream and how they could change.”
“That sense of deep connection to the inner voice is in parallel to what we do at the school,” Hudgins adds. “It’s fun, it’s raunchy and it’s celebratory.”
Though Hudgins draws the line at nudity onstage, he doesn’t shy away from depicting the characters’ sexual discoveries honestly, from simulated circle jerks to SM contemplations.
“This is exactly the kind of experience our students have, and now they [the audience] get to see it onstage,” he says. “This show is about young people coming of age as they face their own sexuality and destiny, figuring out who they are.”
Despite its refusal to go for the more obvious laughs of American Pie, Spring Awakening has its share of humour, Hudgins and his actors are quick to point out. Just don’t expect any stories about band camp.