"Spring Awakening"

By: Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater (book and lyrics), based on 1891 play by Frank Wedekind.
Produced by: Foothill Music Theatre
Directed by: Milissa Carey
Choreography by : Amanda Folena
Musical direction by: Mark Hanson
Featuring: Casey Ellis, Jeremy Griffith, Dana Johnson, Justin Karr, Brandon Leland, Juliana Lustenader, Ryan Mardesich, Carissa McElravy, Jacob Marker, Lyn Meheula, Dillon Mena, Caitlin Papp, Jason Rehklau, Mark Sanders, Taylor Sanders, Holly Smolik and Warren Wernick
When: Preview 7:30 p.m. February 21; opens February 22, runs through March 10 2013. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Where: Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, at the bottom of the hill, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, California
Tickets: $10-$28. Visit or call 650-949-7360.
Spring Awakening
David Allen / Foothill Music Theatre
Holly Smolik, Taylor Sanders and Carissa McElravy, from left, in "Spring Awakening," playing at Foothill Music Theatre February 21-March 10, 2013, in the Lohman Theatre.
'Spring Awakening' to bloom
at Foothill Music Theatre
Brilliant musical that turned Broadway on its ear likely to rouse audiences at the Lohman
February 19, 2013

I like the idea of the It Gets Better Project, which is meant to help LGBT kids get through adolescence.

But I gotta say, adolescence is tough on straight kids, too.

And here's what I have to say to all adolescents, in my Old Fart Wisdom: Just hang in there, and be patient. Eventually you will grow out of adolescence, and things really will get better.

An odd thing to me, now that I have achieved a modicum of Old Fart Wisdom, is that adolescence doesn't seem to be much easier today than it was in 1890 when Frank Wedekind, a German playwright, wrote "Frühlings Erwachen," known in English as "Spring Awakening."

The problem of that play is that the parents aren't honest and forthcoming with their children, not even about something as important as sex. And when you are going through puberty, it would be really helpful to have some honest information about it.

At one time, I would have thought that after the free-love era and Betty Friedan and Dr. Ruth and Cosmo and Erica Jong, that parents would be more effective in talking with their kids about their own Spring Awakenings.

But now, as an official Old Fart, I know that parental honesty and frankness don't work anyway, because kids just don't want to hear it. Or don't believe it.

So, enter Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, who made Wedekind's old play into a modern rock musical that turned Broadway on its ear and won a ton of awards, and pretty much demonstrated, full out, what a musical could do and be.

It's about sex and friendship and growing up and consequences, and it has a fabulous rock 'n' roll score and calls on its casts to do some earth-shaking dancing. "Spring Awakening" screams and stomps with wild hormonal blasts of music, therefore it speaks the language of adolescence.

It is full-immersion theater, emotionally, and has developed a following of fans who call themselves "The Guilty Ones" — a name taken from the Act II curtain-raiser — people who followed the Broadway tour casts around like Deadheads, and who see every production possible.

As a fan of the show, and a fan of Foothill Music Theatre, I was thrilled when I heard that Foothill was going to stage "Spring Awakening."

Foothill Music Theatre has earned a solid reputation for doing a great job staging musicals, and has a huge talent pool upon which it can draw of students, former students and even people who just want to get in on a good thing. And a lot of those people are in their 20s, which is just about the right age to play a bunch of energetic adolescents with raging hormones.

"We had 110 people audition for 17 slots," said director Milissa Carey in a recent phone conversation. ... And our actors for this show are tremendous. It's very exciting to work on this play."

Milissa Carey
Jordan Matter Photography
Director Milissa Carey

Carey, who teaches at Foothill College and at American Conservatory Theater's Young Conservatory — and acts and directs on stages all over the country — said that after doing "last year's musical farce" — "All Shook Up" — that she had been looking for something contrasting, "something that would be exciting to work on for everybody.

"I really like 'Spring Awakening,'" she said. "The way it's put together is interesting. It's fun to work on."

One of Carey's first moves was to bring in Amanda Folena — artistic director of Broadway by the Bay — as choreographer.

"So much of this is organic movement — there aren't a lot of dance numbers in it that are traditional," said Carey. "There is a feeling to the piece, to the music, and we let the dance come out of that. It's character driven. I knew Amanda would be great for it."

Juliana Lustenader, who plays the key role of Wendla in this production, did the show last year at San Francisco State University, where she is a student. In that show, she played Ilse, the Guilty One who runs off to be a bohemian.

Juliana Lustenader
David Allen / Foothill Music Theatre
Juliana Lustenader stars as Wendla in "Spring Awakening."

In this production, as Wendla, she sings the opening number, "Mama Who Bore Me," as a young girl just reaching puberty who begs her mother to explain to her what's going on with her body, and how babies are made.

Mama who bore her can't bring herself to talk about it, and the troubles begin.

Lustenader, in a phone call, said it's really fun to be doing the show, but that Wendla is a tough character to play, because she is so young. Lustenader just turned 22.

"I'm trying to come off as innocent and younger, yet strong in her conviction. ... every scene she's in, she has a very specific goal, to learn something new. She is stubborn. 'Mother, I really need to know what is it like to have a baby.' .. She comes off as this sweet, innocent little girl, but really she's very smart."

"The original play was very daring, so controversial at the time he had to self-publish, and it was banned," said Carey. "Now it's still hot, vibrant."

The scenes, Carey said, still follow the original Wedekind play, but it "explodes into the rock score, expressing the inner lives of the characters."

Carey is excited because she gets to work with a pretty good-size band for the show, including the acoustic elements, such as cello and violin. Mark Hanson is musical director for the show.

"Our focus is not trying to redo that (Broadway) show, but to find our version of these characters," said Carey. "We are very focused on finding out who are these people. Making it real, so the audience really relates to them."

Carey recognized that doing a show as contemporary and seemingly unbridled as "Spring Awakening" was kind of a departure for Foothill Music Theatre, which, after all, is based at a community college.

"I checked with everybody," Carey said. "The people in the theater department didn't care, but I also checked with the president of the college, Judy Miner.

"I told her that some of the songs were 'The Bitch of Living' and 'Totally Fucked.'

"Turns out she'd seen it on Broadway and liked it. She's a huge supporter."

Spring Awakening
David Allen / Foothill Music Theatre
Jacob Marker, Warren Wernick, Keith Burgelin (seated), Mark Sanders, Ryan Mardesich and Dillon Mena, from left, in "Spring Awakening," which plays February 21 through March 10, 2013, at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. Visit or call 650-949-7360.


Custom Search