Once again, Company J’s teen summer stock program brings metro Atlanta’s best teen actors to the boards for an edgy, thought-provoking musical. “Spring Awakening,” an exhilarating mix of morality, sexuality, and rock and roll, opens at the Morris and Rae Frank Theatre at Zaban Park on Aug. 8.
The show is a musical adaptation of the controversial 19th century German play by the same name and explores the turbulent journey from adolescence to adulthood by following a group of teens as they navigate self-discovery and coming-of-age anxiety in a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion.
Producing Artistic Director Brian Kimmel says, “What a thrill as we to continue our tradition of providing a summer learning laboratory for teens. ‘Spring Awakening’ is the perfect vehicle to raise the bar for our program. It allows our young performers to tackle challenging issues using music and lyrics that they can relate to.”
To maximize the number of students involved in summer stock, most of the show’s roles are double cast.
While the play is set in the 19th century, when the teenage characters break into song they approach the music and lyrics from a modern standpoint, using traditional rock music and lyrics that contain modern colloquialism and sometimes explicit language. With this single decision by the show’s creators, the connection to modern teenage angst is made intrinsically clear. Additionally, all of the adult roles (parents, teachers and an abortionist) are played by the same two actors, clarifying the characters’ belief that all adults are, in the ways that matter to an adolescent, inherently the same.
Cast member EBeth Engquist, a rising sophomore at Pace University in New York, was drawn to the role of Ilse even though Ilse’s personality and circumstances are very different from her own. “Ilse and the rest of the teens in the show live in a very oppressive society. They are all trying to find their way in their world. I find Ilse interesting to portray because she is one who is attacking this oppressive way of life from the outside and as an outsider.”
Ryan Talley, a rising sophomore at the University of Georgia, is Moritz, an intense and nervous boy. Talley described the play as “black and white, a repressive environment where people follow rules and they don’t discuss things. But the music is every color except black and white. In the music, the characters break free and come to life, expressing their feelings and frustrations. This show is written for the teenage mind.”
As such, it is an opportunity for audience members to seriously consider and acknowledge the themes explored in the show. “I think many times one thinks of musical theatre as a place to go, see a happy little show and be entertained. Obviously, some theatre does that, But this show challenges the audience members to open their minds,” said Savannah Stein, a rising sophomore and musical theatre major at the Boston Conservatory.
Sylvee Legge, a rising freshman acting major at New York University, tackled the role of Martha, a young teen with an abusive father. “I hope that by seeing this show, teens and their parents will begin to discuss topics that may have been uncomfortable to discuss in the past. We need an environment that lets people know it is ok to discuss awkward or upsetting subjects.”
“’Spring Awakening’ is rooted in the basic issues of being a teen,” said Engquist. “It drives home the point that we all need to be heard.”
“And you have to listen and take it in, not just listen to what you want to take away from a conversation,” added Legge.
“This show is like real life, which at times is confrontational. I really hope that it will stir the audience to deal with issues, even uncomfortable issues,” declared Stein.
“Going through puberty is an uncomfortable experience for everyone,” stated Talley. “So often teens feel alone and isolated, like they are the only one feeling the way they do. This show drives home the point that everyone struggles to find their way. I really hope this show will help families open up a dialogue.”
‘Spring Awakening’ is a show that remains bold, direct, clear, and challenging to the society that would more often prefer to look away.
Performances are Aug. 8 and 9 at 8 p.m., Aug. 11 at 2 p.m., Aug. 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. Because the show contains adult content and themes, it is intended for mature audiences only. Tickets for adults are $17-$20 and for students/seniors $12-$15. To purchase tickets, call 678-812-4002 or visit companyjatl.org. The Morris & Rae Frank Theatre at Zaban Park is located at 5342 Tilly Mill Road.