Sex, drugs and pantyhose

Boundary-pushing, Tony-winning musical at the Tom Hendry Warehouse

  • Samantha Hill and Jeremy Walmsley star in Spring Awakening. – Supplied

The issue-packed and controversial Spring Awakening makes its Winnipeg debut thanks to Winnipeg Studio Theatre.

Directed by Kayla Gordon, who is also an instructor at the University of Winnipeg’s Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, the rock musical (soliloquies are done as alternative rock numbers on microphone) features a talented cast of local up-and-comers, including several former U of W students.

The 1892 play by German playwright Frank Wedekin, from which the musical draws inspiration, was often banned as it was perceived to be “pornographic” in its criticism of the sexually oppressive culture that was present in Germany at the turn of the century.

While the seven-time Tony award-winning musical may be tamer, Connie Manfredi, cast member and U of W graduate, says it still aims to expose the same hard-hitting issues as its source material.

Spring Awakening depicts the coming of age and sexual awakening of a group of German teens in the late 19th century.

The story focuses on 14-year-old Wendla Bergmann (Samantha Hill), who feels betrayed by the adults in her life for not providing her with the necessary information for becoming a woman.

Wendla falls in love with Melchior (Jeremy Walmsley) and they proceed to “do forbidden things.”

The play’s subtitle is A Children’s Tragedy, so you know it does not bode well for these kids.

While sex and pregnancy are definitely at the forefront of the musical, so too are the issues of homosexuality, suicide and physical, sexual and verbal abuse that teens still face to this day.

“Decade to decade, century to century, there’s always going to be that struggle growing up,” Hill, 24, says of the timelessness of the show. “That intense love that you feel, that every issue is so important, I think that’s why this piece still translates today.”

The cast hopes that through the exposure of these issues, the dialogue between teens and their parents that is lacking in Spring Awakening will be sparked between audience members.

“So many crappy things are thrown at you that it leaves you wanting to talk about them,” says ensemble member and U of W graduate Tatiana Carnevales. “Each generation wants to make an improvement for the next generation. There is hope for the children involved.”

However, Manfredi, 22, stresses that audiences should not feel like they are going to a taping of Degrassi.

“It’s not an after-school special. Not everyone has issues, but there is enough for the audience to relate to,” she says. “(The audience) is never belittled - it is not preachy. You feel touched in a way that you wouldn’t expect from a rock opera.”

While the story is dark and the future is bleak for its lovers, the prairie-born cast of Spring Awakening is having a blast performing in it.

“I really like the story. The musical, and the original play, are very beautifully tragic. (To paraphrase an original Broadway cast member), it’s very rare as a performer that you get to be in a show that is so much fun and so meaningful at the same time,” Carnevales says.

Winnipeg Studio Theatre presents Spring Awakening at the Tom Hendry Theatre at the MTC Warehouse, 140 Rupert Ave. until Dec. 4. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students and are available by phone at 204-942-6537 or online at www.mtc.mb.ca/wst. Visit www.winnipegstudiotheatre.com for more information.

Published in Volume 66, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 23, 2011)

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