The 2010-2011 touring company of the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening shocked and thrilled the audience on the campus of Southern Illinois University on October 14.
And, just like the play that inspired it, the performance had some calling it “pornographic.” Several members of the audience did not return to see the second act after the 20-minute intermission.
The reason, primarily, centered on the final scene of the first act, a love scene between stars Elizabeth Judd as Wendla and Christopher Wood as Melchior. To some viewers in the Bible Belt community of Carbondale, the exposure of Judd’s breast and Wood’s butt, as well as the simulated sex scene was inappropriate.
But this isn’t the first time the show has had such a reaction. Playwright Frank Wedekind penned the play in 1891 and it, like several of his plays, was widely censored or outright banned during his lifetime. Wedekind’s plays addressed issued of sexuality and communication between the sexes as well as violence and societal mores. His plays broke all the rules of theater at the time and he is now considered to be one of the founders of modern drama.
Just don’t tell that to man in the fourth row who began grumbling about the inappropriateness of the show when the boys in the play broke into the punk-inspired “The Bitch of Living.” When Judd’s breast was exposed in the final scene of Act I, he called the play pornographic. He didn’t come back to see the Act II which includes the song “Totally F*cked”.
To be fair, the play was advertised as being for mature audiences. Even a bit of research on the production would have shown that themes of sexual and physical abuse, masturbation, and suicide are a portion of the story. The show also includes homosexuality, abortion and death.
Spring Awakening is set in Germany in the 1890s and follows the coming of age story of a group of students, focusing on Melchior, the boy all the girls in town swoon over, Wendla, his childhood friend and teenage sweetheart, and Moritz, the boy who just wants to please his father.
In addition to addressing issues that one does not normally associate with that time period, the play also discusses basic tenets of communism, though without ever putting a name to them Melchior and Wendla simply agree that what is best for one should be what is best for all.
Spring Awakening was nominated for 11 and won eight Tony Awards in 2007. The musical features songs inspired by rock and punk music and the dance numbers for the touring company seemed in many ways to resemble controlled chaos.
The show at Shryock Auditorium was held in conjunction with Southern Lights Entertainment as the first show of the fall season and was performed through NETworks. More information about Spring Awakening is available at www.springawakening.com.