It took a while but Onstage Atlanta has a home again. For 15 long months, the company was homeless after losing their Decatur space but now they are up and running again in a location just miles from where they once were. They are producing again as well — their new take of “Spring Awakening” has just opened.
The musical — which won eight Tony Awards — is based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play that follows the lives of a group of German teenagers dealing with their sexuality and growing up. With music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the original Broadway version featured Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele.
Directing the piece is out company member Charlie Miller, a big fan of the musical himself, having seen the national touring version and the Actor’s Express take. “I loved the show and as we moved into a new space, I thought the kind of show it is would work well there,” he says. “I think a lot of the issues that the show deals with are surprisingly timely and interesting. I also thought I could do a pretty good job of presenting this to our audience. The show has not been done in the city for a while.”
The characters include Melchior (Jacob Valleroy), an intellectual living in an authoritarian, adult-dominated world and trying to figure out where he fits. “Melchior is dealing with his coming of age and sexuality,” says Miller. “He understands intellectually what sex is but has never had it. Throughout the play, he discovers what it means to him, good and bad.” Wendla (Emily Winchell) is an innocent, naive girl sheltered from a lot of things in life but she feels her body changing while Moritz (Shane Murphy) is confused by relationships and has to deal with a domineering father who berates him for not living up to expectations and a lot of internal angst at home. “Spring Awakening” also features a subplot about the same-sex relationship between teenagers Ernst (John Jenkins) and Hanschen (Austin Basham) who eventually give in to their feelings.
“All of us have gone through these kinds of things are teenagers,” says Miller. “When you look back to the original, it’s shocking that it’s over 100 years old. It’s all fascinating to watch.”
He feels the musical is especially relevant in this day and age, with the controversy over the recently passed heartbeat bill and discussions about abortion rights. “There are obviously issues of teenage sex as well. Living in the South, I feel like we, as Americans, are sheltered to what that means versus being open and honest about what it means to be a human. This is a reflection of a direction it can take in society today and the things that go on in a young person’s brain.
This version of the show features a first for Onstage Atlanta: a seven-piece orchestra. The orchestra won’t be physically on stage but will be visible behind a scrim.
Aurora Theatre, who produce musicals as well as anyone in town, has just opened their 2019-2020 season this week with Stephen Schwartz’s “Children of Eden.” Directed by Justin Anderson, it’s described as an “epic masterpiece” about the Book of Genesis and the struggle between parents and children. Its large cast includes Maxim Gukhman and Naima Carter Russell from the company’s “Memphis.”