Spring Awakening, adapted by Duncan Sheik, is a rock musical that follows the lives of young teenage students growing up in 19th-century Germany. We are taken on the journeys of these students as they discover themselves, things about each other, and most importantly, what sex and sexuality means to them and how it plays a part in their individual lives. Wendla Bergmann, Melchior Gabor, and Moritz Stiefel are the main characters that frame and guide us through these stories; they give the other characters incentive to step forward and bring us along their “coming-of-age” journey.
In any form of performance art, whether it be film, television, theater, etc, it is important to have contrasts. Contrasts give the story and theme substance and elasticity as well as sharp, strong dynamics that grant the show the opportunities to be very impactful instead of just simple and blended. The contrast of setting and theme is something to be noted here. A time like 19th-century Germany being the place to carry the theme of sex and sexuality is extremely interesting to look at. The exposition of the show informs us of this strict, traditional, “no room for mistakes” culture in Germany where self expression and any mention of sex is taboo. In the very first scene of dialogue in the show, Wendla asks her mother the truth about conception and tells her she can no longer be fooled by the story of the stork. Her mother is so shocked by this and wonders where she even began to think of it. She can’t even look Wendla in the eye and goes as far as hiding her underneath her skirt to even before speaking. This discomfort in talk about sex reflects this contrast between this hard, stiff setting, and something apparently as wild and out of place as sex. The nature of this setting makes the overarching theme of sex and sexuality even more enticing to look at and follow.
The songs are especially very cohesive with the theme of sexuality in the show: “The Word of Your Body” and “I Believe” are two major ones. “The Word of Your Body” is a ballad devoted to hinting at this overwhelming sense of wanting and desire of the other’s body and how these two bodies are going to have such an impact on each other, they’ll actually be each other’s “bruise” and “wound”. “…haven’t you heard the word, how I want you?” This type of discourse reflects a lot of what we’ve talked about with “desire”. We discussed desire as this powerful force driving us towards someone. It is something that Whitman would even consider part of human nature. He sees human beings as one and desire as something that just comes with that exchange when the attraction is there. The essence of Whitman’s perspective of such inseparability between people really plays a part in this show; mostly in the case of Melchior and Wendla. Although they are taught that sex is sinful and almost deviant, they are still drawn together and engage in the act as “I Believe” plays in the background. “All will be forgiven…there is love in heaven”. This lyric in the song is reflective of the idea that sex is something that is too perverse for the world around them. It goes so far as to say it is something that needs to be “forgiven” in order to be okay.
Freudian psychology and sexology can also be applied here because homosexuality is a part of this show as well. “The Word of Your Body (Reprise)” stars two male students sharing a love scene on top of a mountain while they both reveal their love for one another. Passionate kissing is involved as well as lustful dialogue and delivery of the lyrics. Freud would say this is a deviation of sexuality because it does not involve a penis and vagina. Homosexuality is considered way outside the standard of sex for Freud. This idea of sexual deviance and perversion pushes even further the contrast between the stiffness of 19th-century Germany and sexuality.
I think this musical does an excellent job in approaching sex and sexuality in a very intriguing way. The restriction the characters feel by the adults and setting alone forces them to find other ways to discover themselves; thus creating this sort of “break out” attitude within the show. This can be reflected by the songs “Totally Fucked” and “The Bitch of Living”. The entirety of this show is incredibly powerful and really does an amazing job addressing the multiple themes of rebellion, sexuality, abortion, suicide, etc, that all play a huge part in the storytelling of these students.