Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Saturday, 18 April 2009 17:43 UK

Teen sex saga makes West End waves

By Alex Stanger
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Spring Awakening
The tough issues dealt with in the show are still relevant 100 years on

As the curtain falls, a dad and his three teenage daughters leap to their feet to applaud the cast of stage show Spring Awakening.

However, the couple behind, who have spent the second half of the musical tutting, leap to their feet and head for the exit.

"You can't please all the people all of the time," says Michael McCabe, one of Spring Awakening's producers.

"You are always going to have different reactions in that auditorium."

Spring Awakening is based on the play of the same name by the 19th Century German writer Frank Wedekind.

It is a coming of age story dealing with abuse, teen pregnancy, abortion and suicide - subjects which had the play banned before it was even published.

Fast forward 100 years or so and Spring Awakening is still set in 1891, but with a score fit for the 21st Century. Most of the plot, meanwhile, remains the same.

"The music in itself is quite remarkable and indescribable in a sense because it uses different genres," says Aneurin Barnard, who plays leading man Melchior.

Iwan Rheon
Iwan Rheon is part of a cast found through a lengthy audition process

"There's classical, indie rock, some soul riffs and stuff. Then the story covers an awakening in teenagers and how they deal with their different experiences," adds the 21-year-old.

Melchoir heads a group of teenagers being brought up in a strict and religious society where talking about sex is taboo.

The character most troubled by his "awakening" is Melchoir's friend Moritz, who is played by 23-year-old Iwan Rheon.

"The issues are always going to be the same. It is that period in your life when you are hitting puberty there's the same biological structure in everybody," says Rheon.

"It is timeless. The same things will be happening to people in thousands of years from now and that's what's great, that something written in 1891 is still very relevant today."

Spring Awakening has already struck a chord with audiences across the US.

A huge North American tour is currently on the road. Before that, a Broadway run ended in January after earning more than $50m and eight Tony awards, including four for its creators Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik.

The writer and composer are now behind the 18 productions of Spring Awakening mushrooming across the globe.

Talent spotting

London is one of the first of these productions and started life at Hammersmith's Lyric theatre before it transferred to the West End's Novello in March.

"The Lyric allowed it to find an audience, find success and then it was that local success that brought it into the West End rather than it being another Broadway show," says McCabe.

Spring Awakening
The show is to be made into a film directed by McG

"We were very keen to make it feel like a homegrown production and the Lyric ended up being a brilliant place to start."

But before opening in Hammersmith, McCabe and the rest of the production team had to find a cast.

It took a year of auditions and workshops across the country to come up with the final line-up, which has an age range of 16 to 25.

Charlotte Wakefield, 18, was at school in Cheshire when she found out she had landed a part.

"I had been waiting for the call all day and it was during a music lesson, at around two o'clock when my agent called me to say I had the part. My knees just buckled."

Since then Wakefield has swapped her real classroom for one on stage to play leading lady Wendla.

"I am only four years older than Wendla. Using a young cast brings an authenticity to the performances that is very genuine because we are not that much older than the characters we are meant to be."

Sexual awakening

Barnard shares a similar story. He was in his second year of drama school in Wales when he was chosen to play Melchoir.

Since then he has been seen glaring from Spring Awakening's publicity shots.

Despite the storyline and young cast, the musical's appeal is far-reaching, he says.

"We all have a sexual awakening, we were all teenagers and there's not a human on earth that can't say they haven't been through it.

"I was very confident that this was a show that can reach out to a wide audience.

"Whether they don't like the music, the set or the style of it there may be a moment in the show that they can connect to because we all have to grow up at some point."

Next on the cards is a big screen version of the show from Charlie's Angels director McG, so it looks like Spring Awakening will be challenging wider audiences for some time to come.

Spring Awakening is on at London's Novello theatre.

Watch Alex's report on Entertainment 24 on the BBC News Channel: Saturday 18 April at 1045 and 1745 and Sunday 19 April at 1745 and 2145. All times BST.



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