For the stars of Theatre Baton Rouge’s “Spring Awakening,” the chance to appear in the dark, explicit play is a dream come true.
“It is the epitome and critical musical of our generation and our time,” said actor Jacob Voisin. “This is a dream show of mine and Moritz was a dream role of mine since I listened to the sound track a long time ago. I think being the age I am now, being with the people I’m with now, it just fell into place and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I just have to be in this production.’”
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind, the play, which runs Oct. 24-Nov. 2 in the Studio Theatre, follows the innocent and sheltered 14-year-old Wendla (Emily Heck) through the exploration of her body, as well as the trials of Melchior (Gentry Williams) who stands in defense of his buddy Moritz (Voisin), a boy so traumatized by puberty he can’t concentrate on anything.
With a pop rock sound track and a relatable storyline, the production will take the audience through the dark and somewhat depressing times of the chronicled teenagers, presenting situations that 19-year-old Heck said aren’t too far from her own youthful memories.
“Any human can relate to being depressed and feeling alone, and this show kind of shows you that you’re not (alone),” Heck said. “The music is just so beautiful — the message and lyrics put into it just speak to me.”
But for Williams, his desire to be in the cast stems from the production’s explicit nature.
“It’s so different, so raw and explicit,” Williams said. “You don’t see a lot of theatres, especially in the South, addressing that kind of material.”
Williams said he waited five years to play the role of Melchior, who he describes as a proud and scientific character pushed by his teachers and privileged beyond his appreciation.
“He has a terribly tragic end which he brings about on his own,” Williams said. “It’s kind of interesting to play someone who thinks he is doing everything right to be somebody in the world and gets almost everything taken away from him.”
Much different than Voisin’s last major role of Danny Zuko in the LSU Musical Theatre production of “Grease,” Moritz is a much shyer and more confused character who is pressured to be perfect. It’s a role which Voisin said required serious acting.
“It’s a phenomenal, phenomenal acting role,” Voisin said. “It’s a challenge I felt like I could really sink my teeth into.”
Production director and Theatre Baton Rouge Managing Artistic Director Jenny Ballard also welcomed a challenge with “Awakening.” Fairly new to her role at the theatre company, the production is only the first of two she will direct as a full-time employee, but one she had signed on to long before accepting the official position.
“This is going to be the most controversial show Theatre Baton Rouge has ever done,” Ballard said. “I actually agreed to direct it before I even applied for this job because I really love this show.”
Ballard said the production redefines what audiences think of when thinking of musical theatre.
“It is so honest and it is so graphic at times, and it is so real and human that I think that it’s really exciting to be a part of something that is so visceral and different.”
Since a lot of the text from the original play is offset by Steven Sater’s contemporary book and lyrics and Duncan Sheik’s music, Ballard said she believes the musical is easier to process and may help bring out a younger audience.
“It has a chance to change the way audiences think of this theatre and this is really going to target a different demographic,” Ballard said.
While “Spring Awakening” isn’t actually the riskiest for the theatre company that presented shows like “Avenue Q” and “Rent,” Ballard said it is the beginning of many more risk-takers to come.
“We plan to continue to push the envelope with shows like this,” she said.
“Spring Awakening” is part of the Turner-Fischer series, sponsored by John Turner and Jerry Fischer, represents the set of productions that take place in the studio theatre as opposed to the main stage.