The Defiant One
By Russell Florence, Jr.
Composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist/librettist Steven Sater’s 2007 Tony Award-winning rock musical Spring Awakening, a poignant, racy and riveting coming-of-age tale, will receive its highly anticipated local premiere next week at the Victoria Theatre.
Based on the controversial, groundbreaking 1891 Frank Wedekind play of the same name, which was instantly banned and remains a relatively obscure work, Spring Awakening tackles teen angst and sexual discovery with compelling potency and a contemporary spin. The action is set in a provincial town in 19th century Germany, but Sheik, who received a Grammy nomination for his 1996 pop tune “Barely Breathing,” creates marvelous modern ballads (“Mama Who Bore Me,” “All That’s Known,” “The Word of Your Body,” “Blue Wind,” “Left Behind,” “Whispering,” the absolutely gorgeous “Song of Purple Summer”) and pulsating anthems (“The Bitch of Living,” “Don’t Do Sadness,” “Totally Fucked”) rather than writing anything pastiche. It is a signature concept that adds greater relevance within the daring and provocative material, which incorporates nudity and encompasses thought-provoking themes of abuse, hypocrisy, loss, love, lust
In the musical’s new, non-equity national tour, Columbus native Christopher Wood, 22, will portray defiant heartthrob Melchoir Gabor, who falls for the inquisitive Wendla Bergman and leads her and his friends on an evocative, eye-opening path of adolescent liberation that changes their lives forever. Wood recently discussed his role with DCP by phone from Platteville, Wisconsin in advance of the tour’s Dayton engagement.
What attracted you to this project?
WOOD: I was familiar with the show and its (cast recording). It’s such an exciting piece. It’s unlike any show I’ve ever seen or been a part of. When I first heard I was cast as Melchoir last April I was absolutely thrilled. I find Melchior so interesting. He goes through so much. It’s an emotional roller coaster of a journey, and Melchoir sings some amazing music along the way. There are definitely some inhibitions that had to be thrown out the window. Fortunately everything is so choreographed and so specific.
Were you wary of the nudity that’s required?
WOOD: I thought about it, but it’s relevant to the story. The plot points are revealing in nature of how the characters are realizing these events. Everything that’s there is absolutely vital to the show.
How have you approached the complex role of Melchoir? What are you trying to convey in your performance?
WOOD: When you look back at the original play, Melchoir is more of a flawed character in that you don’t see a character that knows what he wants at every moment in the play or how to get it at every moment. My interpretation has more clarity in Melchoir’s view of himself and the world around him. I wanted to show that Melchoir is a conflicted character. He’s growing and learning. He sings of being trapped in a body that’s a man and a child, and he doesn’t know what to do with this being that’s come from him. He is fueled by a passion and desire to know more. I am still trying to get under his skin, to discover the things that make him tick. He’s not cookie cutter. He’s got all sorts of oppositions working in him.
What are your thoughts on the show’s Tony-winning score and how it’s presented in this adaptation?
WOOD: I’m really fortunate to have so many parts of the score Duncan paints for us. The ballads are beautiful and the rock songs rock! It’s so fun to be fully engaged and whip a microphone out of your jacket and sing an alternative rock song. I believe it’s harder for some to fully relate to people from that time, and the music takes you out of the 19th century and immediately plops you into today’s world. It contemporizes the emotion. The same feelings are there, just in a different sort with different colors and different laws. I believe the music only enhances the audience’s relation to the subject matter.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the show?
WOOD: I think the biggest misconception is that it just stands there to rebel against the world. I think some hear it has mature themes and they assume it’s just there to be different, to shock you, disgust you, to excite teen emotion and rebellion against parents. I don’t think Spring Awakening is a show about hating parents, teachers or laws. It’s a story about coming to an understanding of yourself, how you are, and accepting that. Spring Awakening is quite tame as opposed to most R-rated movies or TV shows out there. I think it’s controversial because it wants to be.
Dayton will be the 14th stop for the tour since it began two weeks ago. How has ‘Spring Awakening’ been received on the road thus far?
WOOD: The show has been received very differently in different venues, not only in terms of audience but the space/theatre itself. Some audiences choose to reflect upon what they’re seeing by internalizing it. It’s been interesting to see how audiences respond.
What do hope audiences familiar and unfamiliar with the show take away from the experience?
WOOD: To those who can’t wait, I assume they know how wonderful and entrancing the show is. I’m excited for them to see the show on stage if they haven’t yet. For those on the fence, I’d say it’s a good idea to do your research so nothing shocks you.
Spring Awakening will be performed Tuesday, November 2 and Wednesday, November 3 at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. The production is intended for mature audiences. Tickets are $29-$74. There are a limited number of on-stage seats available as well. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit online at
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editor/theater critic Russell Florence, Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org