About the Broadway Show "Spring Awakening"

by James Rutter
The cast of

The cast of "Spring Awakening" onstage at the 61st Tony Awards

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The musical "Spring Awakening" opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on December 10, 2006. The show draws on the 1891 play of the same name by German dramatist Frank Wedekind. It tells the story of young people growing up in 19th-century Germany and how their adolescent problems and experiments with sexuality lead to dangerous consequences. "Spring Awakening" received 11 Tony Award nominations and won in eight categories, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.


The musical contains roles for teens and adults. Main teen roles include Wendla, a young girl who becomes pregnant by her classmate Melchior, an intelligent, rebellious adolescent. His friend Moritz struggles to cope with the pressures imposed upon him by his parents and the school system. Other teen characters include Martha, whose father sexually abuses her, Ilse, who finds refuge in an artists' colony, and Hanschen and Ernst, who experiment with homosexuality. Adult roles include Melchior's parents, Moritz's demanding father, Wendla's mother and several teachers at the school. All of the adult figures contribute to creating a hostile and confusing atmosphere for the teens.


Wendla's mother cannot bring herself to explain the facts of sex. During Latin class, a teacher bullies Moritz and beats Melchior with a stick. The boys and girls gather after school, discussing the little they know about sex and love. Melchior and Wendla meet in the woods; later, they consummate their relationship. The school expels Moritz for bad grades; when none of the adults will help him, he kills himself. After Moritz's funeral, the parents and teachers shift the blame to Melchior for spreading dangerous ideas about freedom, love and society. His parents send him to reform school. Wendla discovers her pregnancy and dies during a botched abortion.

Creative Team

Steven Sater wrote the book and lyrics for the musical. Rock musician Duncan Sheik composed the score, which consists of classic rock, folk rock and alternative rock songs that include both solos and rousing choral numbers. Michael Mayer received a Tony Award for his direction. Choreographer Bill T. Jones was awarded a Tony. Christine Jones was the set designer, Susan Hilferty designed the costumes and Kevin Adams won a Tony for his lighting design.

Original Broadway Cast

The then-unknown Lea Michelle--now of "Glee" fame--starred in the original production as Wendla. Jonathan Groff and John Gallagher, Jr. starred as Melchior and Moritz, respectively. Gallagher won a Tony for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical. Lauren Pritchard played Ilse and Lilli Cooper made her Broadway debut as Martha. Gideon Glick, also appearing on Broadway for the first time, played Ernst, while Jonathan B. Wright portrayed Hanschen. Christine Estabrook took on all of the adult women's roles, while Stephen Spinella played all of the adult men. The original cast recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.

About the Author

Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.

Photo Credits

  • Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images