It’s not often that a musical forces the audience to think about uncomfortable topics while they are being entertained.
“Incest, abuse, masturbation, abortion, suicide, the list goes on,” Kiely said over the phone about the issues the play will tackle. “Kids get beat, kids get put down. It’s pretty shocking.”
But “Spring Awakening”, premiering Sept. 28 at DePaul University’s Merle Reskin Theatre at 7:30 p.m., does not present those issues gratuitously.
Based on the controversial 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, the story follows a group of young German adolescents as they struggle to navigate sexual discovery in a community of restrictive, demeaning adults. It was adapted to a rock musical in 2006 by Duncan Sheik.
The musical approaches social taboos like homosexuality and suicide as human struggles, not shameful secrets to be swept under the rug.
“The original play really tapped into the problem of adolescence…you’re learning new things about yourself and you don’t understand them,” Kiely said. “What the musical does is allow flights of fancy and imagination where the kids get to release frustration, express longing…and that’s where the connection comes from. You get to hear them for a moment, feeling better about themselves, overcoming the perils of adolescence.”
Joe Keery, a third year student in the Acting Program, said he was “shocked” by the musical the first time he saw it in New York several years ago.
Now, he is starring in the production as Melchior, the intelligent, openly atheist young man who clashes with the conservative adults around him.
“It’s been definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Keery said of his role as Melchior, which includes everything from sex to physically beating a friend onstage. “Trying to embody this journey from being a…rebellious young boy to the end of the show when he’s…becoming a man.”
While the musical does not incorporate one of the strongest images from the original play–a forcible rape–there is one scene that Keery is glad it kept.
“I’m really glad they still included the suicide [scene],” he said. “I think it says a lot about the pressure people put on themselves and others…and how someone can feel like they’re lost inside their own head.”
Kiely just wants people to realize that the things happening to the characters onstage are not a product of 1890’s Germany, but still happening today.
“I hope people see it and recognize themselves in it,” Kiely said. “I hope we inspire people to think.”
No one will know until after the show premieres if it will spark discussion, but if Kiely’s rendering of “Spring Awakening” is even half as potent as Wedekind’s original, it will be worth watching.