ORLANDO — Paul Castaneda remembers seeing the Broadway tour of the musical “Spring Awakening” when it came to Central Florida and getting caught up in the sobering tale of teen angst and the passions and emotions that young people experience as they move toward adulthood.
He also decided at that point that it was a play he’d love to direct.
“ ‘Spring Awakening’ has been a passion of mine for years now,” Castaneda said. ”I was able to see the Broadway tour in Tampa years ago. The themes really spoke to me.”
“Spring Awakening” is a rock musical that starting out as a highly controversial German play – all the way back in 1891 – by Frank Wedekind. It was banned in Germany for dealing with then-controversial subjects like homosexuality, suicide, rape and child abuse. The updated version, with music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steve Sater, didn’t get banned and instead won 11 Tony Award nominations in 2007, winning for best musical and five other categories.
Now Castaneda, the executive director of the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, is reviving the musical. It opens on Friday, Aug. 19 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and Castaneda said directing this show reminded him of why he felt so passionately about it during the first run.
“You might say I have an affinity already built in for musicals with teen angst in the plot, and teens in the process of growing up,” he said. “When I was growing up, I experienced very close to me things like suicide, and I had a very close friend — who is still very close to me — who is homosexual and struggled with being able to show that side of himself – first to himself, and then after that to his friends and family, for fear of rejection or being ostracized. Those kinds of things have always spoken to me.”
Castaneda said the musical deserved every Tony award that it got, because it has a powerful impact on audiences.
“It’s a great work,” he said. “The original play that it was based on was banned in Germany because of its content. It explores some things that are universal but not always dealt with in this manner – teenagers blossoming into sexuality while their parents are being incredibly strict with them, and dealing with things like homosexuality. There’s a homosexual love story in the show, and there’s a suicidal subject matter that’s discussed in the show.”
At the same time, the music is used to explore the character’s often fragile emotional states.
“The way the show is written, it’s really about two different realities,” Castaneda said. “You have the scenes that happen where, if you took out every single song in the show, you would still have a play – it would hold up without the music. It would be short, but it would hold up.
“But any time these kids are confronted by any kind of emotional situation, the emotions just burst out of them into a song,” he added. “It’s not like your typical Broadway musical where you’re supposed to believe the songs are just flowing from the scene. It’s more like two realities on top of each other.”
To heighten the show’s impact, Castaneda directed it in the Shakespeare Center’s Mandell Theatre, which offered GOAT a unique way of presenting this musical.
“We are doing it in the round, so we will have audiences on all sides,” he said. “It presents — especially with a musical with big dance numbers — some unique opportunities and unique challenges. You have to be completely cognizant that there are people that are on all four sides of you that have to experience the show. You have to play on all sides in a three dimensional reality, which is not always what happens in theater. That’s been an interesting challenge, and one that we’ve really enjoyed.”
But Castaneda also hopes the story of teen anxiety, fears and hopes has an impact as well.
“I would hope that it would spark dialogue and discussion between parents and their kids,” he said. “You do see the repercussions in the show of what happens when there is not that kind of conversation with parents and kids, and they’re just being kept in the dark.”
“Spring Awakenings” runs from Aug. 19 to Sept. 4, with performances at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students. To learn more, call 407-872-8451 or log on to www.goatgroup.org.
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