Adapted from the play “Spring Awakening,” written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind and later banned, it’s an honest, painful and moving story of adolescents discovering their sexuality and emotions in a society where adults want to suppress them.

Seven years ago, the musical “Spring Awakening” seemed as doomed as the adolescents who rock the stage with their powerful stories. After three years of workshops, a planned opening off-Broadway was cancelled in 2002. Yet, like a teenager whose angst has blossomed into success, a revived “Spring Awakening” captured the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical, as well as seven other Tonys.

“We had been on a fast track, but after 9/11, the consensus was that people wanted escapist theatre,” said play writer and lyricist Steven Sater, who won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score. “I was heartbroken. I always had faith in the show, but it was a hard row. We were very different, because we broke a lot of rules.”

That maverick quality has propelled the popularity and critical acclaim of “Spring Awakening,” which runs April 28 - May 24 at The Colonial Theatre and will be staged internationally following the national tour.

Adapted from the play “Spring Awakening,” written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind and later banned, it’s an honest, painful and moving story of adolescents discovering their sexuality and emotions in a society where adults want to suppress them.

Sater discovered the play in high school in his town library in Indiana and recalled thinking, “I get this. This is cool.” Years later, when he became friends and produced a record with rock composer Duncan Sheik, Sater proposed a theatrical collaboration.

“For generations, young people have found release from and expression for their longings in rock music,” Sater said. “I thought of “Spring Awakening” because the play is so full of the yearning and frustrations and joys of being young and I thought it was a great fit with Duncan’s music.”

But the two broke tradition by combining disparate styles. They retain the play’s 19th century setting in provincial Germany, where students wore long, plain dresses and dark jackets and breeches, symbols of the period’s inhibitions and restrictions. But the characters seem like today’s youth when they sing into hand held microphones and dance with the energy of spirits set free. The impact is greater than if the story had been made contemporary, as “Rent” updates the 19th century “La Boheme.”

“It seemed like if we left it in the time period and let the music and vocabulary of the songs be modern, then we could have something powerful and emotional,” Sater said. “Implicit is the sense that kids today have access to all this information, yet they’re still wrestling with the same emotions and confusions and pressures as they were a century ago. The themes are timeless.”

Sater, nonetheless, made many changes to the original play, particularly in the relationship between Melchior, an intelligent non-conformist, and Wendla, a sweet girl mystified by what she senses but doesn’t understand. Melchior also befriends Moritz, an insecure and ashamed boy struggling to succeed. The roles of both boys are played by the original Broadway cast members.

“I created a hero’s journey for Melchior and a tragic love story in the heart of it,” Sater said. “There’s a Romeo and Juliet romance, which isn’t represented in the original play, where the relationship is darker.”

However, the gulf between the youths and adults remains just as large. It’s highlighted by the fact that adults only speak, leaving the songs entirely for the dozen teenagers. These adults – teachers and parents played by two actors – repeatedly fail the students, keeping them ignorant about their bodies, abusing them physically and sexually and abandoning them emotionally when they need support.

How this affects the teenagers is conveyed through the lyrics and music. You feel their shame in “Dark I Can’t Tell,” desire and discovery in “The World of Your Body,” defiance in “I Don’t Do Sadness,” futility and despair in “Totally F--ed,” and yearning for truth in “All That’s Known.”

“The songs allow you to enter into the hearts and minds of these young people and you want to go on journeys with them,” Sater said. “When they step forward with the microphones, the action of the play stops and you’re pulled into their questions.”

The songs also are what Sater calls “real rock music” instead of theatre rock music, and the script is a classical story, not just “a book for musical.”

“You could take the songs out and watch the play, or take the play out and listen to the songs and they still would work,” he said.

In either case, the audience faces hot button issues – masturbation, incest, beating, abortion and suicide. The critics have focused on these, often underplaying the story of love and friendship, Sater said.

“For all the glowing reviews we’ve had, we’ve also been hurt because people think, ‘I don’t want to see a show about that,' ” he said. “But the issues are dealt with modestly and sympathetically, not exploitively. And there are beautiful testaments to the power of youthful friendship and love.”

Sater, who studied English literature at Princeton, has long been interested in poetry and play writing and never planned to be a lyricist. Now, he hopes his book and songs for “Spring Awakening” continue to have meaning, a desire that stems from his trauma at age 20 when he had to jump from a college building at Washington University to escape a fire and suffered burns and serious injuries.

“It was a major life-altering incident,” he said. “Life and death are very present to me, and I’m very determined in wanting to create things that endure.”

He is particularly proud of the show’s effect on parents and children.

“The real achievement is that we’ve opened up dialogue,” said Sater, who is married and raising two pre-adolescent children in Los Angeles. “The parents remember their own lives when they were young and have empathy for their children. It’s remarkable the emotional chord we’ve struck.”

The final song, “Purple Summer,” is hopeful: “And all shall know the wonder/ I will sing the song of purple summer.”

“It’s an anthem to going through adolescence and the difficult spring and into summer,” Sater said. “There is loss and sorrow that is part of the natural order, but life continues.”

SPRING AWAKENING At The Colonial Theatre, 108 Boylston St., Boston. April 28-May 24 Tickets are $42.50-$92. 800-982-2787 or go to

Open Call
Auditions for future replacements for the national tour will be held at 11 a.m. April 25 at Hyatt Regency, One Avenue de Lafayette, Boston. Males and females ages 17-21 should prepare a short folk/alternative rock song. Bring sheet music, photo and resume. Accompanist provided. For more information, call 212-719-9393, Ext. 360 or go to