Unlike your typical happy-go-lucky musical, this one comes with a content warning: “Spring Awakening contains nudity, sexual situations, explicit language and triggering scenes of violence.” Lest the audience is scared away, the warning also comes with the caveat that the nudity/violence/language is necessary to tell a story that needs to be told: “Majestic Repertory believes the themes explored in this show are extraordinarily relevant to today’s teens. We are producing the Las Vegas premiere of Spring Awakening to encourage dialogue and open discussion among our patrons—as all good art should do.”
Based on a controversial German play from the 1890s, this Tony-winning musical brings 21st-century rock music to a 19th-century town. The anachronism works because the original play was ahead of its time, depicting teens tackling a host of perennial issues—premarital sex, masturbation, homosexuality, child abuse, abortion, suicide and reform school—all without the help of the internet. In fact, if the play had been written today, it might be considered too on-the-nose for trying to hit every single hot-button issue. But in well over 100 years, the plot has aged like a fine wine, revealing a sense of scope to the problems of puberty. As The Beatles said, “Love is old, love is new.” Such is true for Spring Awakening.
Lead actor Callie Maxson says that the juxtaposition of styles makes the show more powerful by revealing the parallels between the two eras. “We think nowadays of it being so far in the past … but we’re not that far off.”
Songs like “The Bitch of Living,” “Touch Me” and “Totally F*cked” don’t hold anything back. And the music—composed by Grammy-winner Duncan Sheik, with lyrics by Steven Sater—is supported by a live band that also combines the classical (violin, cello and piano) with the contemporary (bass, drums and guitar).
Maxson plays Wendla, a young girl who yearns to learn about sex. After her mother refuses to teach her, Wendla accidentally gets pregnant, with tragic results. “I’ve been obsessed with this story for so long,” Maxson says in a backstage interview after a recent show. “Wendla has been in the top five roles I’ve wanted to play in my entire life.” Maxson says that the show is especially relevant in Las Vegas because the schools here don’t offer great sex ed. “I ended up in the dorms teaching a lot of my friends what I had learned in school growing up [in Washington state].”
Maxson, 23, first saw Spring Awakening when she was 15. She sat between her mother and her pastor, which led to a “really great conversation” on the way home from the show. “It’s important to have a dialogue between parents and children, especially in such a tumultuous time,” Maxson says. “This show has pushed that into the mainstream and started the conversation in a way that I don’t think this medium has done before.”
SPRING AWAKENING Through February 10, days & times vary, $15-$28. Majestic Repertory Theatre, 702-423-6366.