As a young woman who considers herself a modern feminist, Xan Mattek said it’s been a challenge to capture the mindset of a sheltered 19th century teenage girl who “doesn’t know where babies come from.”
Mattek, 19, is playing the role of Wendla in the musical “Spring Awakening,” this year’s Stage II production of the Center for Theatre Arts at Salina Community Theatre. The musical, with a driving alternative rock score, is an adaptation of a seminal 1891 play of the same title by German playwright Frank Wedekind.
The original Broadway production of the musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, won eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical.
Both the play and musical explore the struggles of a group of adolescents who are trying to navigate the sexual repression and stringent expectations of 19th century society while at the same time discovering the rebellious power of their minds, bodies and souls.
“As a girl, Wendla is not allowed to ask questions or be free with her sexuality,” Mattek said. “Then she meets a boy who questions everything. The story is about her getting the answers to her questions — and the facts of life — the hard way.”
“Spring Awakening,” with a cast composed mostly of high school and early college-age actors, will be performed Thursday and July 28 through 30 at Salina Community Theatre, 303 E. Iron.
Productions of the original play version of “Spring Awakening” often were banned because of its frank depiction of teenage sexuality, rebellion, depression and suicide. While the musical is still set in the 19th century, the rock score and evocative, sometimes profane lyrics help bring the material into the modern era to illustrate how repression and teenage angst is just as relevant today as it was more than 100 years ago.
“Wendla is a young girl that does everything she’s told,” Mattek said. “Her songs are pleading for her own liberation.”
Although there is a high school adaptation of “Spring Awakening,” that’s not the version Salina Community Theatre education director Shannon Garretson wanted to direct. She and SCT executive director Michael Spicer made a decision to produce the uncensored version of the musical, which contains strong language and mature content.
“For me, there was no reason to edit the show because it’s so amazing the way it is,” Garretson said. “The language isn’t meant to be gratuitous, but it’s naive to think teenagers don’t speak and act this way.”
“Spring Awakening” is a show Garretson has wanted to direct since becoming education director at SCT five years ago, and this year she said she had the right cast to pull off the difficult material.
“Although the play was written so many years ago, it’s timeless — the same things are happening to teenagers today,” she said. “It’s an awakening of youth who are learning about the world and themselves, and also learning that not everyone is looking out for their best interests. You see their innocence begin to fade, and something new awakens within that.”
‘A brilliant show’
The musical is set in 1891 Germany and focuses on the brilliant, headstrong Melchior and the naive Wendla, who stumble into each other’s arms with a desire both struggle to understand. In the meantime, Melchior’s best friend Moritz is struggling with puberty and trying to live up to the stringent expectations of their repressive society.
Life doesn’t turn out like any of them expected, which packs a powerful emotional punch in the end, said Aaron Dix, 19, who plays Melchior.
“One of the biggest themes of this musical is communication, about how parents and children don’t communicate,” he said. “The teenagers have to find out about life themselves, which leads to grave consequences.”
Dix said the rock score perfectly captures the sense of teenage rebellion and despair in the show, and he’s been listening to rock bands such as Panic at the Disco and Fall Out Boy to “get the feel of being a rock singer.”
“This isn’t your traditional musical with theatrical show tunes,” he said. “For the youth of today, rock music is perfect to capture teenage angst. It’s a brilliant show, one that’s going to spark discussion.”