MUSKET brings emotionally charged 'Spring Awakening' to Power Center

Monday, November 16, 2015 - 1:49pm

Cue the lights, the curtains and the teenage angst: As the actors take their positions and the music begins, the audience returns  to their adolescence where confusion and tireless emotion dominated every thought. Addressing themes of sexuality and abuse in 1890s Germany, MUSKET’s “Spring Awakening” offers an impressive insight into teenagers struggling to fend off their inner and real-world demons.

A modern rock musical adapted from a late 19th century German play, “Spring Awakening” follows its leads through sexuality, physical abuse, diabolical authoritative figures, sexual coercion and even suicide. There’s little material excluded from this profanity-ridden musical — and that’s one of its most appealing qualities. Accurately and explosively conveying the bundled emotion contained in adolescent minds, MUSKET’s production manages to be relevant to college students.

“There’s suicide, there’s sexuality, there’s coercion and a lot of adolescence,” debut director Wonza Johnson said. “It’s weird for us to go back to that because we’re so old now. As 18, 19, 20-year-olds, to go back to that age of being 15 and experiencing this for the first time has been challenging.”

Johnson, a Music, Theatre & Dance senior, is trying his hand at direction for the first time. Since April, he’s been tirelessly planning how to tie this show together.

A completely student-run organization, MUSKET is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and though there were a few reservations before settling on this risque musical, the pay off has proven worthwhile. Provided with funding and no censorship, MUSKET is free to experiment in their productions and doesn’t necessarily have to exercise caution when deciding which show to perform.

However, producer Hillary Ginsberg, a fifth-year senior double majoring in Business and Screen Arts and Cultures, and Marketing Director Brett Graham, an LSA sophomore studying political science, reached out through MUSKET to organizations such as Students for Choice and the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Center to set up in the lobby after the show.

“We are trying to make it so that we can convey all the sexuality and the intensity of the show, but at the same time people can come see the show and leave feeling like they’ve learned something — that they’ve progressed with the subject matter and not that they’ve been somehow upset or affronted by the show,” Graham said.

With the aggressive nature of each pop-punk musical number overpowering the eyes, ears and mind, “Spring Awakening” is an emotionally taxing musical for both the audience and cast members. Breaking out of the narrative and bursting into song, the actors use solos to release pent up emotion. Songs are used less to drive the plot and more as a reaction and coping mechanism for what the character has just experienced.

“It’s the perfect example of how musical theater is written to escalate a powerful feeling to the point where the only way to convey it is by bursting into song,” said Sarah Eskandari, a School of Art & Design freshman.

Will Ropp, a senior in the School of Music, Theater & Dance, elaborated: “It’s exhausting, but in a very artistically fulfilling way.”

Playing Melchior, Ropp, along with the other male leads, is in nine of the 11 musical numbers of the first act. Exhausting, indeed.

The multitude of themes, characters and storylines that transverse over the course of the musical creates a unique mood relatively unseen before in MUSKET productions. Though they have produced shows like “Sweeney Todd,” “Rent” and “Into the Woods” that exist on the darker end of the musical spectrum, they’re all dwarfed in comparison by the shadow of angst and pure power exerted in “Spring Awakening.” With songs alternating between “Totally Fucked” and “The Bitch of Living,” no emotion is spared and no experience is too delicate to be proclaimed in a pop rock manner that channels bouts of rage, ecstasy and longing into every word.

The time and commitment of the crew and 17-member cast doesn’t go unnoticed by witnesses to this musical, even before they have stepped foot on the Power Center stage.

“Every moment that they have experienced in this room is a major moment and, even as an outsider getting to watch, that is so rewarding,” Ginsberg said. “I think every single person who comes to see this show is going to see every single moment of hard work they have put into this show and how well they have developed these characters and their incredible story lines.”