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After three months of rehearsal and working with a team of Broadway professionals, University of Kentucky’s Department of Theatre will mount its own production of the popular Tony award-winning Spring Awakening: A New Musical April 18-28, at the Guignol Theatre.
A rock musical, Spring Awakening is a provocative exploration of the journey from adolescence to adulthood. The musical is set in 19th century Germany and chronicles the explorations of teenagers while singing “a love song to sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
While set in a very different time, the message of Spring Awakening began captivating Broadway audiences in 2006 with its timeless story.
“I kind of considered Spring Awakening to be my generation’s Rent; it really speaks to my age group,” said theatre senior Michael Sheehy, who portrays Melchior. “The situations and the problems that these characters are going through in the play are so relevant and current to the issues I, the rest of my class and the rest of my friends are currently facing.”
Castmate Lindsey Austin, a broadcast journalism junior who plays Ilse, agrees. “It is a mature matter that is still relevant today. Kids are still going through puberty and still trying to figure things out. And parents are still unsure of what to tell them. I hope that people take away how open we are being about it.”
UK’s cast had lots of help to prepare to take on such heavy topics. Theatre professionals Jonathan Groff, Alexander Rovang, Sheri Sanders, Jeromy Smith and Lyndy Franklin Smith, all of whom have tasted success at the Broadway level, helped the cast project the rock lyrics and emotional dialogue.
In February, Sheri Sanders presented a two-day workshop on rock musicals for the cast. The actor, singer and audition coach is the author of Rock the Audition, which prepares musical theatre performers for musicals that utilize a more radio-based soundtrack.
The next month, the cast welcomed to campus Tony-nominated actor Jonathan Groff, who originated the role of Melchior for Spring Awakening. Groff gave the UK students tips on how to make the characters their own and invaluable insight on the genesis of the musical.
“I was front of center, two feet from them, and they were completely fearless and just in it. It was really unbelievable to watch,” said Groff. “And I was a total wreck. I just, pretty much from the minute it began, started like openly weeping. Halfway through I was thinking I am going to have to get up and leave because I felt like I was hyperventilating I was so emotional.”
The visit was also powerful for the students. “We got to learn things that you wouldn’t be able to learn from anyone else who was doing a tour or had been the second cast, because he was there when it started and workshopping it. There were things he told us that we would have never known otherwise,” said theatre senior Abby Sheridan, who portrays Anna.
UK’s Melchior had a similar experience, even if it was a little intimidating at first to perform in front of the actor who played his role. “He (Groff) gave me great advice afterwards, where he told me ‘Try not to watch what I have done, try not to do what I do. I am watching what you’re doing, and what you’re doing is beautiful. Try to make Melchior your own,’” Sheehy said.
In addition to visits from Sanders and Groff, the UK cast has also benefitted each day from the expertise of their directors, Jeromy Smith and Lyndy Franklin Smith, who were Broadway actors and dancers, as well as roommates of Groff around the same time he appeared in Spring Awakening. The couple currently serves as adjunct faculty at UK in musical theatre and directors of Town and Village School of Dance.
“It is so inspirational, because the reason why I am in school is to eventually become what they have done, to be able to be on Broadway, to be able to move to New York and to do all this stuff. And to be able to have direct one-on-one contact with them every day is the best experience, not only for the networking and the people they know and the fact that they’ve done it, but just the stories they have, the advice they have to give, the life experience they can share, what it’s like to be in New York, what it’s like to audition for these shows. It’s this completely different beast than what I am used to. So having exposure to that before I go out there, it’s comforting,” Sheehy said.
Rounding out the team molding this cast is musical director Alexander Rovang. Rovang’s recent credits include the Chinese tour of Fame, Sawdust Palace with Susan Marshall and Company, Monkey: Journey to the West at the Spoleto Festival, and John Mercurio’s multi-award winning show Academy.
“To be here with this cast that is doing it at UK, there is something that is very special about this group and special about the kids doing these parts. They’re just nailing it. The audiences aren’t ready for what’s about to happen to them when they come see this play,” Groff said.
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind, the book and lyrics for Spring Awakening were written by Steven Sater and music was composed by Duncan Sheik. The production contains mature themes, strong language and sexual content.
Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students. To reserve tickets, call the ticket office at 859-257-4929 or click here.