I am not much of a Broadway-musical person — and MTV News almost never covers musical theater (except when, say, Usher steps into a lead role). But we did cover one this year, a show that I guarantee is like no musical you have ever seen before. It's called "Spring Awakening."
The American Theatre Wing got it right on Tuesday (May 15) when it nominated this bold and fearless production for 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical. Now remains the question — will the Tonys consider that top nomination alone enough of an honor, or will they have the guts to actually give the award, on June 10, to this groundbreaking musical? They ought to, and here's why.
The most mind-blowing fact about "Spring Awakening" is that its source material — a non-musical play by German Frank Wedekind — was written in 1891. I repeat: A play full of teenagers that includes (but is not limited to) wet dreams, masturbation, molestation, fumbling sex, teen pregnancy, ostracism, sadomasochism, abortion and suicide — and has at its core the notion that keeping young people in the dark about sex will only lead to no good — was written in the twilight of the button-down 19th century. And you think Rosie is a lightning rod for controversy? Imagine being Wedekind in 1891.
Now fast forward with me 110 years or so, to a trip MTV News made to Lubbock, Texas — at the dawn of the supposedly infinitely more enlightened 21st century. We were in Lubbock because, you see, in the public schools there they taught "abstinence-only" sex education. Lubbock also happened to have sky-high teen STD and pregnancy rates. Imagine that. You do the math. Plus ça change ...
Abstinence is, of course, the only sex-ed approach supported by the Bush administration (you may recall the furor raised on the right when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell advocated condom use on MTV News). Yes, from Washington to Tehran to Riyadh, many world leaders still seem to believe that the best way to teach adolescents about sex is to say nothing (or to lace the little you do say with healthy doses of "just say no").
It's within this cultural climate that "Spring Awakening" seems to resonate so loudly. As one of the few enlightened adult characters in the show says, "Don't be afraid of the truth" ... and "Spring Awakening" is not afraid of the truth. Plus it rocks (thanks to a genius score by blast-from-the-past singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik), it's hilarious and heartbreaking and everything in between. Which makes it, as far as I am concerned, the year's best musical, hands down. The New York Drama Critics' Circle, the Outer Critics and the Drama League have already given it their awards; hopefully the Tonys will do the same.
A couple of months ago, MTV News was lucky enough to get to pay a visit to the show, and you can check out the piece we did at the time right here. Plus, watch more of our interview with composer Sheik — the man who gave us "Barely Breathing" in 1996 and who has now breathed new life into Broadway, even though, as he told us, at first he thought musical theater wasn't really his thing. On Tuesday, he got a Tony nomination for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre for his trouble.
And finally — there's more of our conversations with the four leads from one of the most amazingly talented young casts anywhere. They are:
Best Perfomance by a Lead Actor in a Musical nominee Jonathan Groff, who plays the wide-eyed, smart and idealistic Melchior, a rebel with a cause. Groff's performance is the fulcrum the show hinges on — the guy is a natural. It's hard to imagine "Spring Awakening" without him, although he's been doing a 180 recently on ABC's "One Life to Live," playing a disaffected teen who brings a gun to school — a plotline that has had to be reworked in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.
Lea Michele is to "Spring Awakening" what I am to MTV — a veteran. The girl has been playing Wendla, the ingénue who gets put through the wringer, for seven years — since she was 14 — so she's got a unique perspective on how the show has grown from a little workshop production to the talk of the Broadway season. She talked to us about one of the most harrowing scenes in the show, when her character asks to be beaten, just so she can feel something.
In the role of Ilsa, the outcast — or maybe more accurately, the one who escapes to a new, bohemian life — is Lauren Pritchard. She delivers a no-nonsense attitude and a killer voice, and the first time I saw the show I kept thinking Fiona Apple. In fact, Lauren is one of the castmembers who is as much a musician as she is an actor.
Something she shares with John Gallagher Jr. — a Tony nominee for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, who just may be the standout performer in this incredible cast. As the f---ed-up, snakebit and tragically charming Moritz, Gallagher is unforgettable. Not only does he kill with his showstopping song "I Don't Do Sadness," he's also part of a cool punky folk band called Old Springs Pike. Check 'em out at OldSpringSpike.com.
Bottom line — if you come to NYC, see "Spring Awakening." And root for it to win on June 10.