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Center REPertory staging Spring Awakening in tiny Knight Stage

Pat Craig
San Jose Mercury News
April 10, 2012

Spring Awakening, which made its first post-Broadway tour stop in San Francisco in 2008, has proved to be one of those slaps on the forehead -- a smack of common sense in the world of sex, shame and rock 'n' roll.

The show brings that same sensibility to Walnut Creek when Spring Awakening opens April 19 in the tiny Knight Stage 3 black box theater in the Lesher Center as part of Center Repertory Company's Off-Center program of edgier plays.

Awakening is adapted from the 19th-century play of the same name by Frank Wedekind. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater gave the show a 21st-century style and feel, with a rock music score and a script that was changed little from what Wedekind wrote.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a slap to traditional parental authority, but what it actually did was prove both parents and children were doin' what comes naturally, as the song says. Parents were trying to protect their brood from the onslaught of adulthood, and the kids were just trying to deal with the emotions and urges that most anyone who reaches the double-digit age can recall vividly.

As many children and parents have realized over the years, what you don't know or refuse to tell can hurt you.

Unlike productions of the show done in larger venues, this Awakening won't have the brief glimpse of nudity at the close of the first act, which is probably a good thing, due to the intimate nature of the 100-seat Knight theater.

"We aren't doing anything R-rated in terms of nudity, but, at the same time, we haven't taken anything out of the script," said Michael Butler, Center Rep artistic director. "Everything that was in the Broadway and road show productions will be in ours, but it will be more intense due to the proximity of the audience."

That intensity of a small-venue production is what Butler wanted to do when he decided to bring the show to the Lesher Center.

"I didn't just want to replicate the Broadway show with a big production on a big stage. I wanted to do something different, something intimate," he said. "And that could be our undoing with a cast of 13 and a seven-piece band on stage. It'll be a tempest in a tinderbox."