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Theatre / Spring Awakening

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"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 financial success. 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. The production had several Deaf performers and included Ali Stroker, 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.

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.
    • Wendla's mother fails to give her adequate sex education, leading to Wendla's pregnancy.
    • Melchior's mother tries to help in any way she can, but fails to prevent Moritz's suicide despite her best efforts.
    • Moritz's father places extremely high value on his son's grades; when Moritz fails (through no fault of his own, see below), his father hits him several times and belittles him.
    • Martha's father is sexually and physically abusive, and her mother doesn't stand up to him.
    • The teachers intentionally fail Moritz's exams due to not having enough room in the next grade; this leads to Moritz's suicide, which they then blame on Melchior.
    • The only adults who don't end up hurting the main characters in some way are Georg's piano teacher and Hanschen's father, who only show up in one scene anyway.
  • Abusive Parents: Martha's, Ilse's, and Moritz's. The girls' fathers molest them, while Herr Stiefel's strictness is what led Moritz to kill himself.
  • Adaptational Consent: In the original play, Melchior rapes Wendla. The musical presents it as Questionable Consent, as she says yes to his advances. In both versions, she doesn't have much of an understanding about what sex is and what it entails, and he is very aware of this fact, making her ability to consent questionable in either case.
  • An Aesop:
    • The musical is largely about how damaging it can be for people to come of age without knowing the basics of human reproduction and all that goes with it. In particular, Wendla's complete ignorance of what sex allows Melchior to pressure her into a relationship of Questionable Consent, ending with her death!
    • The musical addresses how much suicide hurts the people you leave behind, and all the things you'll never get to do. Two songs are even dedicated to the pain suicide brings, with the Grief Song "Left Behind" emphasizing the mourning of all those around the suicide and "Those You've Known" emphasizing the responsibility the living have to keep going and remember those they've lost.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: The characters have to contend with teenage sexual awakening (and poor sex ed), parental abuse, peer pressure, and the concept of consent.
  • Alternate Show Interpretation: The 2015 Deaf West production, which cast several Deaf performers in the roles, making their characters Deaf as a result. The Deaf performers would sign while hearing actors (who also made up the band) voiced their dialogue and singing. The change really heightened the themes of miscommunication and alienation and changed some of the shows relationships. The biggest change is the show incorporating the policies for the deaf enacted in education at the time, such as forbidding sign language and forcing the students to speak. As a result, Moritz being intentionally failed is significantly harsher than the original as it seems like the teachers want to keep a Deaf student out of the school and, in turn, their adoration of Melchior is because he can hear.
  • 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 were smartly buttoned into their stiff school uniforms.
  • An Aesop: The message of the original 1891 version (and also the musical, which wasn't really changed except for adding songs), seems to be "the prudishness and hypocrisy of modern society (circa 1891) is screwing up our children".
  • 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.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Georg's busty piano teacher, Fraulein Grossebustenhalter, translates as Miss Over-the-Shoulder-boulder-holder.
    • It's actually even less subtle than that; it's closer to Miss Bigbra or Miss Hasbigbreasts.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: A lengthy section of "Totally Fucked." Specifically, 23% of the entire song is the word "blah"!
  • 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 Ham4Ham 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.
    • (Partly) Averted with the Tony Awards performance of the revival - The Bitch of Living was sung with original lyrics, although Hanschen's signing on the line "And you can screw them all," was altered because the original sign for "screw" was too sexual.
    • Amateur, university, and community theatre productions often leave the nudity in "I Believe" out or choreograph it in a way that it's obscured to most of the audience.note 
  • Broken Bird: Ilse could be considered a broken bird, as during " The Dark I Know Well" she seems very cynical. However, her emotional detachment seems to come in a more lighthearted form that would usually fit the trope.
  • 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.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Hanschen keeps getting interrupted during "My Junk", but manages to finish the deed.
  • 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.
  • Delivery Stork: Frau Bergmann is still trying to use this story with fourteen-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 extremely ambiguously consensual sex.
  • 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, by way of Ate His Gun.
  • Dr. Feelgood:
    • In the original play, this leads to Wendla's death by abortion pills.
    • In the musical, it's an illegal abortion by a Back-Alley Doctor.
  • Ghost Reunion Ending: Wendla and Moritz appear at the end of the play to talk to Melchior.
  • 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)"
  • 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.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: The characters are just on the cusp, being 14- and 15-year-olds, but played by actors in their late teens and 20s.
  • 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.
  • Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality: Moritz. Despite showing a clear interest in it, he is terrified of the prospect of actually having sex, to the point where he can't even talk about it with Melchior, his closest friend.
  • Parental Incest: Both Martha and Ilse are habitually raped by their fathers from a rather young age.
  • Preserve Your Gays: 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.
  • Promiscuity After Rape: During "Don't do sadness/ Blue wind" Ilse says that she's been living in an artist's colony where she "lets them dress her up and paint her" and she heavily implies she has sex with them. However, the consent here is more than dubious as she is 14.
    • In the Deaf West production, during the same scene, Ilse goes to kiss him as the only way she knows how to connect with men is sexually.
  • Questionable Consent: Melchior and Wendla's sex scene. In the source material, and the earliest performances of the musical, Wendla screams. In most of the Broadway and national tour performances, the scene is portrayed as more consensual, but at the very least, Wendla had no idea what she was doing and the consequences of her actions, while Melchior did, thereby making situation questionable at best.
  • 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.
  • 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 one scene with Moritz (which happens to be her last), she wears nothing but a white shirt.
  • Short Teens, Tall Adults: Enforced; 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.
  • Sound-Only Death: At the end of act one and his attempt to move to America abandoned, Moritz pulls out a hand gun and in most productions either walks off stage or the stage blackouts and a gunshot is heard.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Visual Pun: Specific to the 2015 Deaf West revival, "The Bitch of Living" has Anna (played by wheelchair-using actress Ali Stroker) wheel past Otto when he sings the line, "Then there's Marianna Wheelan, as if she'd return my calls."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Melchior sings "Left Behind" to Moritz's Dad at his funeral, shaming him for not being more of an understanding father.
  • 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.
    • "For god sakes Wendla no! Papa beats me enough as it is!" This line is particularly directed towards Wendla, because this is what pushes her to want to feel something.
    • "Here rests in God, Wendla B- Born- Died- Of... Anemia?!?"
  • 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.
  • 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.