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Adolescent Angst is Timeless in "Spring Awakening"

Adolescence can be a real bitch. Ask anyone. Better yet, ask the characters in Steven Sater’s Tony Award-winning alt-rock musical “Spring Awakening.”

The show, set in the 1890s, is based on Frank Wedekind’s play about German teenagers who rebel authority, and discover sexuality — with all its consequences. Wedekind’s original was banned in Germany in 1891 for its content, which includes scenes or themes of masturbation, rape, suicide, abortion and domestic violence.

The Broadway adaptation — which kicked off its national tour last year in San Diego at the Balboa Theatre — is simultaneously energetic and emotionally-charged. Just like adolescence.

“['Spring Awakening'] is about life; it isn’t a big fantasy,” says Peter Armado, a 26-year-old San Diego fan of the show, and a member of the musical’s street team, “The Guilty Ones.”

“It’s a little more real, more gritty,” he says.

Singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik — who created the music for “Spring Awakening” — called adolescence “that enormous rollercoaster of deepest sadness and extreme joy and unrequited desire.”

“It’s a time of real learning and the realization of who you are, and all of those experiences hit you so powerfully at that time,” Sheik said last year before the musical’s West Coast debut at the Balboa Theatre downtown.

The desire, frustration, and rebellious nature of the youth onstage resonates with young audience members. The musical tracks the young love of Wendla and Melchior, and the growing discontent of Moritz, who buckles under the pressures of school and his hormones. The songs — including “The Bitch of Living,” “Touch Me,” “The Dark I Know Well,” “I Don’t Do Sadness” and “Totally Fucked” — speak volumes about the tumultuous pubescent years.

“[Adolescence] is still a confusing time,” said Blake Bashoff, who starred as the ill-fated Moritz in the first leg of the national tour, and to whom I talked last year for a Q&A. ” … Everybody knows what it’s like to be a teenager and go through adolescence. They can relate to the joys, triumphs, struggles and pain.”

Much like “RENT-heads,” the devoted fans of the wildly popular musical “Rent,” “The Guilty Ones” — who take their name from a song in “Spring Awakening” — enthusiastically sing the musical’s praises on the streets and online. Fan pages, message boards, Facebook groups and Twitter lists have popped up, connecting fans with the original and national tour cast members. For its part, the cast posts backstage clips on the Web, and frequently interacts with fans on Facebook and Twitter.

But it’s the message — the timelessness of its themes — that keeps fans engaged.

“It’s a different time period, but the issues are things teens still deal with today — not having access to sex education, or not having someone to turn to; abortion; suicide; sexual and physical abuse,” Armado says. “Those are issues today, and the musical sends a very important message. Younger audiences will find something in common with one of the characters. They’re going through similar things.”

Armado caught the show three times when it debuted in San Diego last year, and followed it to L.A. once. Saturday, he worked with the “The Guilty Ones” and promoted the musical at South Coast Plaza, before it opened Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. “The themes, the message, the music — I love everything about it,” Armado said.

And, he says, it’s a great way for parents to start a dialogue with kids about sex, and the raging hormones that accompany adolescence.
“Kids today are rushing into things,” Armado says. “['Spring Awakening'] is kind of like an ice breaker for parents, who might have a little bit of an issue talking with kids about some things, like sex. It’s a way to start the conversation. ‘Spring Awakening’ doesn’t teach about safe sex, but it’s a good way to start the conversation between parents and teens, in a fun way.”

Bashoff agrees.

“I think [the themes] open an important and crucial dialogue between parents and kids that needs to be heard,” Bashoff said, before the show debuted in San Diego last year. “Whether you’re for or against the message, it’s nice to be a part of something, as an artist, that stirs an opinion and begins a dialogue. It’s for the best for a parent and a child; if anything it opens up an important dialogue.”

“Spring Awakening” plays through Nov. 29 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

by Joseph Pena, SDNN.com. Peña is the lifestyle editor for San Diego News Network. He can be reached at joseph.pena(a)sdnn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @josephpena" For more information visit SDNN.com.