Tina Reynolds was thrilled when three of her longtime students asked if they could submit a proposal to do a student-produced show.
However, Reynolds, founder and executive director of the Ovation Academy for the Performing Arts in Oak Park, admitted she was surprised to learn that Vivian Murphy, Leo Gonzalez and Rachel Czuba had chosen “Spring Awakening” as their project.
“But it also made perfect sense,” explained Reynolds, of Oak Park. “It’s a show about teenagers discovering their inner and outer selves. It’s a more edgy musical they probably wouldn’t play in high school.
“Spring Awakening” by Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Safer (book and lyrics) won eight Tony Awards in 2016, including Best Musical. It is based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play about German teenagers and deals with adult themes such as sexuality, abortion, self-harm and suicide.
“I had reservations at first,” admitted Reynolds. Afterwards, the trio explained that “they wanted to adapt it to be interpretative rather than literal. They had ideas for doing scene observation and I thought it was very interesting.
Reynolds is impressed with how it worked.
To ensure that none of the cast members felt uncomfortable with the demands of the script, Reynolds hired intimacy director Courtney Abbot to work with the teens.
Additionally, Ovation partners with Oak Park-based Sarah’s Inn, which provides comprehensive services for families dealing with domestic violence. A representative of this organization will participate in a discussion after each performance.
Vivian Murphy, Leo Gonzalez and Rachel Czuba are all Oak Park residents and seniors of Oak Park and River Forest High School. Although Murphy is officially the director, Gonzalez the musical director, and Czuba the choreographer, Murphy pointed out that they are all co-directors of production.
All three began studying with Reynolds while in fourth grade at the award-winning BRAVO! program based at Brooks Middle School in Oak Park.
“I first saw ‘Spring Awakening’ when I was 13 when Notre Dame played it, sitting between my parents, which was awkward at times,” Murphy said. “I fell in love with the music and the messages and how unique it was.”
This led Murphy to consider the concept of doing the show with high school students. “I think it’s very important and relevant for teenagers,” Murphy explained.
Gonzalez was familiar with the show, but Czuba was not when the pair approached her last summer with the concept of producing “Spring Awakening.”
“Although I don’t know what ‘Spring Awakening’ was originally, once I watched it I thought, ‘This is such a beautiful show that conveys a lot of issues that teenagers face,” Czuba recounted. “It’s a very unique adaptation of societal issues by having a coming-of-age rock musical in the 1890s. It inspired me to want to create a choreography that tells the story of a way the Broadway version didn’t.
Czuba studied dance from an early age and worked with Reynolds in the BRAVO! program since she was in ninth grade, often serving as an assistant choreographer.
Czuba also wanted to move away from literal interpretations of history and find a way “to make these situations more beautiful and less direct,” she said.
For scenes of intimacy, rather than depicting sex on stage, Czuba uses foil with a spotlight behind it so that the actors appear as silhouettes with spaces between them accentuated.
“I think the Broadway show relies a lot on shock value,” Murphy noted. “I feel like the play, the book and the lyrics almost speak for themselves and Rachel’s choreography does a brilliant job of portraying this beautiful scene between these two characters.”
Performances of “Spring Awakening” will be at 7 p.m. May 6 and 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 7 at the Madison Street Theater, 1010 Madison St., Oak Park. Tickets are $12; $8 for students. To order tickets, go to ovationacademy.org.
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.