Theatre / Spring Awakening

"It's the bitch of living, and sensing God is dead!"

"You watch me, Just watch me,
I'm calling. I'm calling, and one day all will know."
Melchior. "All That's Known," "The Bitch of Living," "Those You've Known"

Spring Awakening was originally a play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891, and the Broadway musical based on said play was written in the 21st century. The musical features music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics and book by Steven Sater. The original play was very controversial to audiences of that time period due to explicit sexual content, and didn't have its first production until 1906 in Germany. It wasn't introduced to the United States until 1917, when it premiered in New York City. It was nearly shut down due to it being a "pornographic work." The musical version premiered in New York off-Broadway in May of 2006. It then moved to Broadway in December 2006, and became a sensation much as RENT did in The '90s. It closed January 19, 2009, after 888 shows.

In 2015 the show was revived when prominent deaf Theater Company Deaf West transferred their production to Broadway. This version, directed by Michael Arden, made several of the characters deaf and incorporated American Sign Language into the dialogue and choreography. This created an Alternate Show Interpretation (see YMMV). The production had several deaf performers and included Ali Stoker, the first person in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway.

The show revolves around a group of teenagers, fourteen in the play, of unspecified age in the musical, which is made confusing with the frequent usage of Age-Inappropriate Dress. Melchior is a rebellious bad boy and proud atheist who hates the authority figures in his life. Moritz is Melchior's nervous wreck of a friend, anxious about his school work and ashamed of his sexual feelings. Wendla is a naive but curious girl who develops feelings for Melchior.

Melchior and Wendla have a sexual encounter (the consent of which is ambiguous), and Wendla becomes pregnant. Whoops. Moritz is disgusted with his sexual feelings, which distract him from his schoolwork, causing him to fail school and disappoint his parents who he can't turn to. He ends up committing suicide. Wendla's mother takes her to have an abortion, which Wendla does not survive. Two characters, Hanschen and Ernst, discover their homosexuality with one another. And, to top it off, two female characters, Martha and Ilse, are sexually and physically abused by their fathers.

Many fans will admit the music is better than the story, as the exploration of teenage sexuality and uncertainty might seem like old hat today. (Keep in mind, though, that the play was a groundbreaking example of modern drama and one of the first to address such issues.)

Not to be confused with Catapult Nightmare.

This show provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Almost everything any adult does is to the detriment of one of the teenagers. The only ones who may not qualify are the piano teacher and Hanschen's father.
  • Abusive Parents: Martha's, Ilse's, and Moritz's.
  • Acting for Two: Well, a lot more than just two. All of the adults in the show are played by just two actors, The Adult Men and The Adult Women.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Melchior's a good example to the girls.
    • "Do you know what the whisper is? He doesn't believe in anything! Not in God. Not in Heaven. Not in a single thing in this world!" *All swoon*
  • All Men Are Perverts: Or maybe it's just a teenage thing...
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: In the original productions, the punk rock-esque hairstyles some of the boys sported are assumed by many to be a result of the show's Anachronism Stew, but in fact, the director claims that they were inspired by some actual hairstyles in photos from the era.
    • Those unfamiliar with the 19th century play the musical is based on (if they even know there is one) can be surprised to find that many scenes from the musical that seem to touch on modern controversial topics, such as one featuring a kiss between Hans and Ernst or Wendla's teenage pregnancy, were, in fact, in the original.
  • Anachronism Stew: Though still set in 19th century Germany, the lyrics to the musical are in a very modern idiom.
    • When a character takes out their microphone and sings, they are said to be in their own "Song World", not in 19th century Germany anymore but in a more modern world. Steven Sater uses this to explain the many topics in the show are still very much relevant to the youth of today: death, rape, sexuality, adolescent love, authority and places in society, hence why Hanschen references turning his stereo on in "My Junk," and the Workshop's version of "The Bitch of Living" mentioned wearing jeans, although the characters singing it where smartly buttoned into their stiff school uniforms.
  • Anime Hair: Moritz.
  • Anti-Hero: Melchior.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Wendla believes this. Seems Melchior did too.
  • Big "NO!": Melchior often does this (depending on who is playing him) when he discovers Wendla's grave.
    • Big "YES!": Following "Totally Fucked", when Melchior is asked if he wrote the essay believed to have pushed Moritz over the edge.
  • Bi the Way: Hanschen.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Georg's busty piano teacher, Fraulein Grossebustenhalter, translates as Miss Over-the-Shoulder-boulder-holder.
  • Blah Blah Blah: A lengthy section of "Totally Fucked."
  • Bowdlerise: When the cast performed a medley at the Tony Awards, several lyrics to "The Bitch of Living" were changed to please CBS. Including, among others, "nothing but your hand" to "getting what you can" and "breasts" to "chest". The company then lampshades the censorship in the "Totally Fucked" portion by censoring themselves on the words "ass" and "fucked". ("Totally Bleeped," indeed.) When the show performed another medley on Good Morning America, part of "Totally Fucked" was also performed, but this time with the phrase "totally fucked" changed to "totally stuck" and "kiss your sorry ass goodbye" as "kiss your sorry life goodbye".
    • During the Ham 4 Ham performance of "Totally Fucked", original cast member Jonathan Groff and revival cast members Andy Mientus and Krysta Rodriguez, who were brought in allegedly because Groff didn't want to curse in public in front of children, censored the word "fucked" by signing rather than singing it. Averted with them outright singing "You can kiss your sorry ass goodbye," later to the crowd's laughter.
  • Break the Cutie: Everyone, but especially Wendla and Moritz.
  • Bury Your Gays: Subverted. Hänschen and Ernst don't appear again after their kiss, which is a pretty good fate, since saying the lives of the heterosexual characters (well, those who are left alive) suck would be an understatement..
  • Byronic Hero: Melchior Gabor is an intelligent, charming, enlightened youth who is ahead of his time and deeply troubled by his repressive society and his own developing urges as he comes of age.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Totally Fucked".
  • Counterpoint Duet: Moritz and Ilse's "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind."
  • Dark Reprise: The penultimate song in the musical, "Those You've Known", which is a direct nod to Melchior's first song "All That's Known" at the very start of the musical. "Those You've Known" features reprises from "All That's Known" and "I Believe".
    • In the Off-Broadway version, eerie reprises "Mama Who Bore Me" and "Touch Me" were sung again as Wendla's mom takes Wendla into the abortionist's house and as Melchior gets beaten up by the boys at reformatory.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Hanschen, accompanying the idea of murdering a girl, along with raping her. Yikes.
    • The murder is kind of compulsory, though, given he's masturbating to a depiction of Desdemona.
  • Death by Sex
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Or, in this case, by Tony Award.
  • Delivery Stork: Frau Bergmann is still trying to use this story with sixteen-year-old Wendla, who becomes frustrated and insists her mother finally explain to her what really happens. She doesn't, and this ends very, VERY badly.
  • Descent Into Darkness Song: "I Believe" has its tone darken as the two leads transition from kissing to ambiguously consensual sex.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The character of Ilse spends the entire second act barefoot. The original music director for this show, Kimberly Grisby, also has a reputation for usually being barefoot — everywhere from conducting the show every night to on stage at award shows.
  • Double Entendre: The song "My Junk" sounds like a rather sweet innocent bouncy song about two teenagers falling in love, even though others don't think they're cool... that is until you find out that the song is also about the joys of masturbation.
  • Driven to Suicide: Moritz
  • Dr. Feelgood: In the original play, this leads to Wendla's death by abortion pills.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Big time.
  • The Four Loves: Martha, perhaps? She is shown to have a crush on Moritz, as mentioned during the start of the musical (as well in the original play), despite the rest of her friends going completely goo-goo over the radical that is Melchior Gabor.
  • Ghost Song: "Those You've Known", in which Wendla and Moritz appear to Melchior as spirits, to reassure him.
    • In the stage play (and heard from the musical's Original Workshop recordings), it's just Moritz, and the scene is decidedly far creepier as he actually tries to beckon to Melchior to join him in the afterlife... then the Masked Stranger appears...
      • Sater and Sheik composed two songs for the graveyard scenes before "Those You've Known". Their titles were "Clouds Will Drift Away" and "Blue-Mirror Night (Reprise)"
  • Grief Song: "Left Behind."
  • "I Am" Song: "All That's Known."
  • Innocence Lost: Martha.
  • Intercourse with You: "Touch Me."
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: The cut song, "There Once Was a Pirate", it only seen performed in the Off-Broadway run.
  • "I Want" Song: "Mama Who Bore Me" and "Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)".
    • "All That's Known", again. And "Touch Me" is most definitely about wanting sex.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: At least half of the musical, including "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked."
    • "The Dark I Know Well" is an example of literal musical dissonance—the chorus is similar to many love songs, but it's sung very angrily and the main guitar riff is the prime example of a Scare Chord. ...Because it's about Parental Incest.
  • Love Hurts
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: It looks like Ilse is going to play this role to Moritz—a free-spirited runaway and artist's model who doesn't let life get her down— but it doesn't exactly work out. Her part in The Dark I Know Well, and the nonchalance with which she accounts being threatened and harassed by her lovers in some versions, suggest she's a bit of a Broken Bird as well.
  • Miss Conception
  • Mind Screw: Budapest's version of said musical garnered a collective "what the fuck?!" from fans with their extreme and rather unnecessary alteration to the blocking/choreography/stage design that already existed. One rather creepy example is the new design of "The Dark I Know Well", leading to a very disturbing scene that is usually left to the audience's imagination.
    • Ilse is seen carrying a plastic baby with her, Moritz and Ilse appear to have sex, The Song of Purple Summer is sung by the ensemble whilst wearing sauna-like towels, The Bitch of Living's Latin class' wooden chairs are instead neon-coloured cubes (of course) and Georg actually gets up close and personal with his piano teacher who, in this version, is portrayed by an elderly woman.
    • And their microphones are taped to their foreheads.
    • They later totally reconfigured the production into appearing to be a free-form class exercise by a modern-day drama class, with the adults played by teens as well.
    • "Mirror-Blue Night" evokes a Mind Screw reaction the first time you see it. The whole musical is not at all literal, and kinda makes you think on its themes.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: Martha is a minor character whose only major song is "The Dark I Know Well," a duet with Ilse about their physically and sexually Abusive Parents. The actresses frequently get thanked by fans who were also abuse victims.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Well, since this is an angsty rock musical marketed to teens, and the majority of the cast was under twenty-five (not including the Adult Man and Woman) the males are particularly popular amongst the female fans, although Moritz and Melchior divided most of the fandom into two separate camps.
    • The original Hungarian production had Szilveszter Szabo as the Adult Man. Yes, they made him look apparently as creepy as they possibly could, but he's Mr. Fanservice enough outside of this show that there were fangirls there just for him, too.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Mostly All in Their Heads for solo numbers, though group songs seem to make use of the Adaptation Hypothesis.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Wendla, in the musical. See Anti-Hero above.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: At the beginning, background, and end of "All That's Known".
  • Rape and Revenge: Suggested as Martha's desire in one of the Vienna productions. During The Dark I Know Well, Martha is shown literally overshadowed by the sinister silhouette of her father, finally seizing a pillow and stabbing it with a knife as Ilse helps her. The pillow begins to bleed. It's popular fanon that Martha actually manages this outside of the time frame of the play, mostly because she's left such a woobie.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Don't Do Sadness".
  • Say My Name: When Wendla's mother drags her off to get a back-alley abortion, Wendla is confused and terrified, screaming "MAAMMAAAAAAAAAAA!" as she is dragged off.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Ilse. In her last scene with Moritz, she wears nothing but a white shirt.
  • Somewhere Song: "My Junk."
  • The Talk: "In order for a woman to conceive a child... she must... love her husband, love him... as she can love only him! With her whole... heart! There, now you know everything."
    • Which leads to the heartbreaking scene where Wendla and her mother learn Wendla is pregnant, and Wendla doesn't understand how it could have happened as she isn't married. The worst thing is that this and only this seems to cause her mother distress even as she shrugs off all the blame.
  • Teens Are Monsters, or, alternately, "Adults Suck and Then You Are One": The second Hungarian production played with this idea by putting the whole show in the Framing Device of being an improvised dramatic exercise done by a modern high school drama class. The two adults are also played by teenagers, and within the dramatic frame they quickly begin to go out of their way to hurt, confuse, impede and generally screw with the characters who are actually supposed to be teens, just because they can, and the other actors have to play along because these two are playing grown-ups and have to be listened to in-story no matter how malicious they get.
  • Teens Are Short: The teenage characters are all supposed to be 13-15 years old, but in reality it's rarely feasible for actors near that age range to be hired, particularly with the amount of sexual content in the show. To disguise this they make sure the majority are short in comparison to the adult actors.
    • Averted in Hungary; many of the actors playing teen boys were hired due to being long, lanky, and gawky-looking.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Wendla.
  • Trial Balloon Question: Moritz tries to ask his father what would happen, "hypothetically speaking," if he failed his exams. His father immediately sees through it.
  • Unwanted Harem: Melchior, of course.
  • Wham Line: The 2015 revival manages a very unique one. Throughout the entire play, Wendla has been "speaking" through another girl who plays her audible voice as she signs her dialog. In the scene when she realizes that she got pregnant because she didn't know what sex was (or what it can lead to), she screams at her mother for not telling her. The wham comes with the fact that Wendla is so incensed that her "voice" goes quiet and it's actually the deaf actress speaking aloud. Though the line itself (My God! Why didn't you tell me everything?!) may be hard to understand if you are not used to hearing a deaf person speaking, the importance is conveyed by the fact that she is speaking aloud.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The gay couple Hanschen and Ernst. Most fans agree it's for the best, given how the rest of the core cast ends up.
    • MARTHA. What happens to her after "The Dark I Know Well," for God's sake?
      • She attends Moritz' funeral, for one thing.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Melchior. He got it out of books, but he must warn you: it made an atheist out of him.
  • You Are Not Alone: Melchior discovered Wendla's grave (who had died from a botched abortion while Melchior was at reform school, because he got her pregnant and was framed for his best friend Moritz's suicide) and decides his life is no longer worth living. He is visited by Wendla and Moritz, and all three sing "Those You've Known." Melchior ends the musical with renewed hope, since his loved ones are not as far as he once thought.
    • This is a much more upbeat ending than Wedekind's original play where Mortiz's ghost attempts to convince Melchior that death is better than his miserable life (subverting this trope). Melchior is rescued by The Masked Man (Wedekind's self-insert), who gives him hope for the future and chides the ghost.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: Wendla wears these in some productions, and they're very prominently displayed on the musical's poster.