London Calling: Sheik and Sater on SPRING AWAKENING ... the Film!

By: Mar. 31, 2009
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

The Lyric Hammersmith production of Spring Awakening transferred to the Novello Theatre on Saturday 21 March 2009. The record-breaking run at the Lyric Hammersmith, a raft of five star reviews, and the overwhelming response from sell-out audiences propelled the European premiere production of the Tony Award-winning musical to London's West End. Spring Awakening's Tony Award-Winning creators Steven Sater (Book & Lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (Music) spoke to's UK correspondent Charlie Salem at the opening night celebration and revealed much about the history and future of the musical, including confirming the long rumored film adaptation.

Picture the scene.....

It's gone midnight...the location is ‘The Buddha Club' on the banks of the River Thames.

The time is past midnight and in this darkening music filled club a 30 FOOT high and 20 foot wide giant Buddha stands staring at the post West End Spring Awakening premiere party revellers!

Tonight seems like chaos!

Celebs pour in, paparazzi flash bulbs pop away pieces the dark with white flashes of near blinding light every two seconds.

Tonight a hit show has just opening and the party goes are happy to celebrate along with the cast and creative team. The show was opened at a small venue called the Lyric Hammersmith that in director Michael Meyer's words was smaller than the Atlantic. But it opened well. Very well indeed, with critics saying the show has 'freshness, attack and sheer lyrical beauty' (The Independent), ‘Here it is at last, the answer to one's prayers - a new musical bursting with ambition and achievement...' (The Daily Telegraph) ‘A must-see not just for hormonal adolescents, but for anyone....' (Daily Express) It's breathtakingly, outrageously brilliant... (The London Paper)

Co creator Steven Sater takes me aside to give some very exclusive news!

Steven Sater: I will tell you a film is on its way. We have to change no, we have to TRANSFORM what's here. But, we are in real talks and a film is on the way!!!!

Champagne Charlie: You mean the way CHICAGO was transformed on film?

SS: It will be radically different from film musicals. It will be an exploration of the other themes in the play but faithful to the story. You know it will be like CABARET. In that film they ALL really re- envisioned that show.

CC: How are you going to guard against it losing its main theme and story...the vision if you like and end up like Arthur Laurents was with West Side Story - unhappy?

SS: Well I'm writing it!!!!! And to be honest, I LIKE West Side Story. I really respect Arthur and of course I didn't live Arthur's experience and I understand his reasons why he is unhappy. I think Spring Awakening was such a daring take on musical theatre and it isn't to everyone's taste. I think the film won't be for everyone, but I want to reexplore what a film musical can be totally! I don't fret about the show,the show is the show - that's the show. I want the producers to make their money back in London. It's a terrible dark time in the world at the moment. The fact is Spring Awakening is opening in 18 countries around the world over the next year or so....that's a testament to something about the story. Theatre speaks to us in a way that nothing else does!

CC: How does it feel to be in London? 

SS: You know Charlie, I was walking through Trafalgar Square this afternoon and I walked by this little unmarked Postal shop right near St. Martin's Lane. I remember in the summer 1999 I faxed Duncan the lyric of ‘Don't Do Sadness' from that shop cause that's how we work, I do the lyrics first and he does the music. It's now 10 years since we began.

CC: Did you think that it would truly happen and you'd be at an opening in the West End like this?

SS: In some way I did. I always believed in it! When we were dead for 4 years and we couldn't get any one to look at it I did believe. But did I believe it could happen and open like this well NO! It's Amazing!!!

CC: What have been the highlights for you?

SS: The highlight of the journey for me is always the show. I sit in the theatre and I feel I am in a dream every night. I was just in Vienna before London where it just opening on Saturday night. And I worked so hard on the translation of the German and it's remarkable. There's hardly a line of Wedekind in it. So to those people who say it's just the play with songs ...well there's much more to it than that. I tell you all this is a thrill. When I was a little boy I always dreamed I would have my plays in London.

CC: And how about now, you ARE a hit, is there pressure on you to deliver more hits?

SS: We don't feel the pressure because we have been so unsuccessful for so long! We have two things we have been working on for so long and they feel old. We have one about the Hans Christian Anderson story ‘The Nightingale'. We have been working on it since 2001 and we think we might open in San Francisco and bring it to New York. We are also working on something about the Roman emperor Nero and we want to open in London. That's the plan. We are in conversation with two theatres and we are very hope. I'll tell you exactly which one when it's all fixed up.

CC: What about the best moment? 

SS: There have many but the best one was on May 3rd 2006 when we moved into the Atlantic Theatre (New York). The boys were on stage doing ‘The Bitch of Living',  Duncan was in a band rehearsal and I called him and said get right down here. We sat down and they ran through ‘The Bitch of Living'. By the end we were both in tears. Duncan elbowed me and said ‘this is going to work!!' We now had a show and we knew it would work. Then our choreographer got up and said ‘that is just death. That is NOT my choreography!!!!' We stopped the number and he re did the dance for the whole day.

CC: Have you changed it for London?

SS: I have. I added in the counterpoint in the song ‘Whispering'. The acting here is really something and the leads bring something to their scenes, something new and special. I plan to put these changes in the tour and it's already in Vienna. 

Wanting some air and a little respite from all the post party raving, Duncan Sheik and I stood aside from all the revelry. He was unusually quiet while all around were raving and dancing. He seemed more melancholic despite the hordes of well wishers surrounding him. Obviously something was on his mind. What emerged was here was someone with his mind on the future and the potential of what he's been doing creatively about to possibly be realised in a way he'd never expected.

Champagne Charlie: What does it feel like being in London for this opening?

Duncan Sheik: As a teenager I was a complete anglophile I was into prog rock and all sorts of music from that period. They were NOT musicals but records that came from here by English artists. Now to come here and invite my friends here to the show means more to me than you can image. I have seen Spring Awakening too many times over the last few years so for tonight, what is really meaningful is that it's all happening in this country where all my influences were - that believed me, means a lot. More than you can EVER imagine.

CC: Steven has been telling BroadwayWorld about the film. How are you involved?

DS: The film is in the works. But let me tell you it's incredibly difficult to make musical theatre into film. There are so many musicals that get turned into films. No matter what it takes I want to make a movie that works as a movie FIRST and most of all. I can count the examples of those that do on my one hand.

CC: Which films?

DS: Oh I guess like ‘Dancer in the Dark', ‘The Sound of Music'. I've never seen ‘A Chorus Line'.

CC: How about your own musical career as a solo artist; has that gone on the back burner or has it suffered.

DS: No - It's helped my career as a singer songwriter and I get the people who have seen the show and my own audience. I think theatre could benefit from having the aesthetic and style and energy from modern music and I think modern music could benefit from the aesthetic style of what happens on stage. So I'm just part of this process of trying to make it happen. I'm so thankful that Spring Awakening has became part of the cultural argument so now I can and hopefully other can see someway of doing something interesting that is not part of the tabloid nonsense of ‘who's dating who' or ‘who's outfit is this' And that feels great!

CC: What is next - what sort of challenges will you face with success, with this show setting the bar so high.

DS: It's funny because it's very tricky for me. What you want is people to come to your concert and they have an experience inside their soul. Maybe it happens to 3 or 4 people. All you can do is put your head down and do things form the right reasons. So I'll just keep doing what I do and hope. 

CC: And ‘Nero', how soon will we see a fully staged version of this and where? 

DS: I would especially like to do ‘Nero' here and we are talking to theatres here and producers here. The culture here is better in that it would be more meaningful to them. But I tell you this, it will make Spring Awakening look like ‘The Wedding Singer'. It has all those ‘family friendly' themes like castration, matricide, slavery.....But it happened. So it relates a lot to what happened in western history and you know what - relates a lot to what in some places is happening now. So that's why it has teeth. Musically it's exciting I can do things that do completely out of time. I won't be doing rock music, roman music or will be music that really makes the drama stand out.

The opening night at the Lyric Hammersmith on 3 February 2009 was the culmination of a nationwide search and an extended period of workshops and rehearsals for the young British cast members who, under the direction of Michael Mayer, have made Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's award-winning musical their own. The Lyric Hammersmith, alongside the original American creative team, including choreographer Bill T Jones, has produced a must-see contemporary musical which is both ambitious and daring, and a long-awaited addition to the landscape of the West End.

Frank Wedekind's groundbreaking 1890s play was a daring exploration of teenage sexual awakening set against a backdrop of religious and parental repression. Writer Steven Sater and songwriter Duncan Sheik's new musical version retains the period setting of the original and introduces a superb collection of contemporary songs that serve to express the private anguish and ecstasy of the young characters. Stunning 21st century design and superb performances by the predominantly young cast combine to create an exhilarating energy that drives a remarkably compelling and timeless story.

On transferring from the off-Broadway Atlantic Theater, the original US production of Spring Awakening became an overnight sensation. It grossed over $50million during its two year run at the Eugene O'Neill Theater and a US tour is booked through to 2010. By the end of 2009, productions will have opened in Japanese in Tokyo, Korean in Seoul and German in Vienna. 18 foreign productions are in preparation around the world.

The British cast, all but three of whom are making their professional debut, range in age from 16 to 24: Aneurin Barnard (Melchior), Lucy Barker (Ilse), Natasha Barnes (Anna), Chris Barton (Swing), Jamie Blackley (Hanschen), Hayley Gallivan (Martha), Natalie Garner (swing), Mona Goodwin (swing), Evelyn Hoskins (Thea), Edd Judge (Otto), Harry McEntire (Ernst), Jamie Muscato (swing), Gemma O'Duffy (swing), Iwan Rheon (Moritz), Jos Slovick (Georg), Richard Southgate (swing) and Charlotte Wakefield (Wendla). All of the adult roles are played by the acclaimed actors Sian Thomas and Richard Cordery. Andrew McDonald and Yvonne O'Grady understudy.

Spring Awakening is booking at the Novello Theatre until Saturday 31 October 2009.

Cast blogs, rehearsal scenes and more are available at