The 20th of November, 1906, saw the premiere of Frank Wedekind’s first major play at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. The production caused an immediate, major scandal. Germany at the time, although prosperous, was a very repressed country, like many other countries in the early 20th century, and this play with its themes of rape, suicide, homsexuality and abortion provoked a hostile reception from many members of the public and critics who could not accept this view of their own society. Since then the play has been censored and indeed banned in many countries. It is notable that it didn’t receive a full, unedited performance in the UK until the National Theatre produced it in 1974, several years after the Lord Chamberlain’s grip on theatre censorship had ended.

Wedekind (1864 – 1918) had a colourful life. He started working in circuses and then moved into the theatre as an actor and singer. He had a great deal of success as a cabaret performer influencing a whole generation of German satirists who, in their turn, were highly influential on the culture of the Weimar Republic. After the enormous, scandalous success of Spring Awakening, Wedekind went on to write over a dozen more plays, including the two “Lulu” plays, Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s box). These inspired the Pabst silent film Pandora’s Box, starring Louise Brooks as Lulu, and also Alban Berg’s great opera Lulu. Wedekind died at the age of 53 after returning to the stage too soon after surgery. His importance cannot be underestimated. Shortly after his death Bertolt Brecht wrote ‘without actually seeing him buried, I cannot conceive that he is dead. Like Tolstoy and Strindberg, he was one of the great educators of modern Europe’.

So, how did one of the darker masterpieces of German theatre make it into becoming a successful Broadway musical, winner of 8 Tony awards, including Best Musical?

Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater (book and lyrics) first started working on the piece in the late 90s. It originally started out as a concept album, but they soon realised that with its heady mix of edgy rock music blending with elements of German folk music its real purpose was to be seen on stage. Various other manifestations followed, workshops, studio productions and even a concert version at the Lincoln Centre in 2005. The original idea had been to follow the plot of the original play closely, but after extensive rewrites and much thought, cutting songs and adding songs, altering the story order and so on, it developed into a much tighter structure, more suited to musical theatre, without compromising any of the original themes. The first fully staged production opened Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company in May of 2006, seven years after Sheik and Sater and had started work on it, and ran for two and a half months. The production created a huge buzz and a Broadway transfer was inevitable. So, on December 10, 2006, the show opened at the Eugene O’Neill theatre. It received nearly unanimously favourable reviews, and recouped it’s $6m investment in less than 9 months. Showered with Tonys in 2007 and also 4 Drama Desk awards, the cast album won a Grammy in 2008. The show closed on January 18, 2009, after just under 900 performances. Since then the show has been seen on tour in the States and recently had a Broadway revival, which earned a further 3 Tony nominations. Outside of the States it has been seen in Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Malta, Japan, Brazil, Australia with many more productions planned. The first London production started at the Lyric Hammersmith and transferred to the Novello Theatre. Surprisingly, it was not a commercial success in London, and closed just after two months in the West End. However, it was a great artistic success, garnering excellent reviews and winning 4 Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Musical.

Spring Awakening is a vibrant, powerful piece which is an ideal vehicle to showcase the talents of young actor/singers with great voices. Associated Studios is proud to present this wonderful adaptation of a great masterpiece depicting a group of fascinating characters in their journey of self-discovery and coming of age anxiety in a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion.

May 17, 18 & 19
Cockpit Theatre, London

Tickets available here

William Relton