Sept. 12 2012 12:00 AM

'Spring Awakening' blooms at Riverwalk this weekend


In 1906, a highly controversial stage play about teenage sexuality was ruffling the collars of conservative German theatergoers. It was called “Frühlingserwachen,” and it addressed a host of verboten subjects — abortion, homosexuality, rape, suicide — and was summarily mothballed. Exactly 100 years later, it was reborn as the hit Broadway musical “Spring Awakening,” which will be performed by two mid-Michigan community theaters within 90 minutes of each other this weekend. Who says there’s no such thing as progress?

“Spring Awakening” opens this weekend at Lansing’s Riverwalk Theatre.  Another production premiered last weekend at Mount Pleasant’s Broadway Theatre.

“Their production was so different than ours,” said Riverwalk director Kelly Stuible. “It didn’t worry me, it didn’t scare me or make me nervous, but it was really neat to see another director’s take on it.”

Changes between the two productions of the Tony-award winner include the staging (Riverwalk uses a thrust stage while the Broadway Theatre uses a traditional proscenium stage) and the moments that each director deemed most important in the rock musical.

“Their director made some really interesting choices that I had never thought of,” Stuible said. “Things that wouldn’t really fit into my vision and to what our cast brings to the show. But it was really interesting to see where he took it.” 

Stuible’s vision included staying close to the source material, except for one scene, which had frontal nudity from the lead actress. It had been suggested that she take the nudity away when the show was submitted last fall but in the end it was Stuible’s decision.

“I decided that it was there to just be shock value — it almost took away from the power of the scene,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily to tone it down per se (but) it doesn’t seem realistic that a teenage boy that’s with a girl for the first time is that smooth that he can undo her top. I wanted it to feel more real.”

Other than that slight change, the show sticks true to the previous version, including the language and themes, many of which are just as relevant today.

“The show is so topical,” said Elitza Nicolaou, who plays the utility character Adult Woman. “I knew it was going to be a challenge that I wanted to take on.” 

Nicolaou plays several of roles, including a piano teacher and the mother of two of the characters. She says she worked hard to understand these women and their intentions.

“As the controversial aspects of it goes, there was never anything that made me want to do it less or made me nervous,” Nicolaou said. “If anything it made me want to do the show even more because I think it’s so important right now.” 

With the presidential election coming up, these issues have been booming all over the news, making this show all the more relevant.

“The issues are not specific to any generation,” Stuible said. “It’s just amazing how timeless you see that these issues are.” 

“Spring Awakening”
Riverwalk Theatre
Sept. 13-23
7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
228 Museum Dr., Lansing
$20 adults/$18 seniors
(517) 482-5700