“SPRING AWAKENING,” the new Broadway musical in previews at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, covers nearly all the hurly-burly that can rattle, confuse and capsize the teenage years: sexual confusion, abuse, death. A bit like “The History Boys” with a rock score and a lot more angst.
The candid portrayal of such subjects may disquiet some of today’s viewers, but the original 1891 German drama by Frank Wedekind on which the musical is based caused a scandal. The play wasn’t produced in Germany until 1906, 15 years after it was written, and then only in an abridged form. In New York City the commissioner of licenses tried to shut down its English-language American premiere in 1917. A court injunction permitted the production, which ran for a single matinee and closed.
Wedekind — probably best known for the Lulu plays, the source of Alban Berg’s famous opera — was not unaccustomed to such dust-ups. He lived in Munich, a center of the literary avant-garde, and often contributed poems and stories to the satirical magazine Simplizissimus. One that ridiculed Kaiser Wilhelm II (better known for his megalomania than his sense of humor) landed him in jail for several months in 1899 on charges of treason. He was continually at odds with the censors until his death in 1918.Thanks to Rob Carver for pointing this out.