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Student Blog: “Song of Purple Summer”: Finding a New Start

Looking back at Spring Awakening 16 years after

Student Blog: “Song of Purple Summer”: Finding a New Start
The cast from Spring Awakening reunites
15 years later.

"We all joke about what the f-- a purple summer means", Michael Meyer tells in Those You've Known, the new HBO documentary about Spring Awakening. He's talking about "The Song of Purple Summer", the last song on the show. He directed the musical that conquered Broadway in 2006, and he has his own version of what that metaphor means. Actually, every person from the creative team and cast has their own interpretation of it.

To me, it always felt more like a coda than a conclusion. The second to last number, "Those You've Known", structurally works as the finale, bringing Melchior's story arc to a tragic resolution. I won't spoil the ending, despite the fact that the original play in which this musical was inspired has been around for over a hundred years. But once this song ends, after usually moving the audience to tears, all the cast returns to the stage for a vibrant rendition of that song about the "purple summer". This is probably the only moment in the whole show that feels optimistic and full of joy.

If you google "purple summer" you will find literally everything, from pictures of purple flowers to a luxury villa called Purple Summer in Ibiza. So, what is it? Is it a flower that only blooms in summer? Or what if spring represents the green and innocent childhood, and the purple summer is an analogy for adulthood? The truth is this Tony Award winning musical leaves room for interpretation, allowing the audience to connect the dots and bond with the material.

The show was written by Steven Sater, with music composed by Duncan Sheik, and it was inspired by the German play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891. The 19th century play stayed unproduced for years, since it was banned because of its controversial themes. Spring Awakening dealt with all the taboo subjects you could think of, including sexuality, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and suicide. The main antagonist was the silence of the adults; that quietness fueled by fear, and encouraged by that false belief that the problems will disappear if we don't talk about them.

Things haven't really changed a lot since then. I didn't grow up in a German village in the 1890's, and yet I often bump into that same antagonist. With such themes still being very current, Sater and Sheik transformed this story into a rock musical capable of capturing a modern audience. The show finally premiered Off-Broadway in May, 2006, after 7 years of development and workshops.

Student Blog: “Song of Purple Summer”: Finding a New Start
The original production
premiered in 2006.

According to the documentary, Spring Awakening was well-received by both the audience and the critics. However, when they took the decision to transfer to Broadway, they weren't sure if it was going to work out. The musical moved to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, anyway, and despite the positive reviews, it failed to bring enough audiences. It was until the show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards (and won 8 of them) that people began showing up. As a result, one of the biggest fanbases Broadway had ever seen was born.

I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the material (I was 10 years old), but as I grew up, it became more and more evident that I had to revisit the show, and I actually found some guidance, especially as I went through that transition between childhood and adulthood, just like the characters on the show. When I was a teenager, they also refused to talk to me about some sensitive topics, just like Wendla (originally played by Lea Michele) at the start of the show. There was no Melchior (portrayed by Jonathan Groff on the show) to help me understand what was happening, but there was a Spring Awakening cast recording I could listen to. Even from time to time the blue winds would affect me, like they affected Mortiz on the show, but the hope to sing a song of purple summer kept me going.

Those songs were like anthems for me. And those characters, and the actors who portrayed them, were like a family to me. The cast of this show was composed of a lot of undiscovered young artists that found bigger recognition later on in their careers. Both Lea and Jonathan starred on Glee; Jonathan even got to be in the newest Matrix film, and he played King George on Hamilton.

John Gallagher Jr. won a Tony Award for portraying Moritz, and just a few years later he would work on Green Day's musical, American Idiot; he appeared on HBO's Newsroom and he played Mason in Short Term 12, next to Brie Larson. Skylar Astin did everything from Pitch Perfect to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist; and even Krysta Rodriguez, who was a swing on the show, would later appear on some TV shows (like Smash, Halston and Gossip Girl), and she also lead several hit musicals, including the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening.

The Deaf West interpretation of the show was just as brilliant as the original production. For this version, some of the characters were deaf, and they were able to play with the concept of adults and children having communication issues. The show got a new meaning and it made it somehow even more powerful.

Student Blog: “Song of Purple Summer”: Finding a New Start
The cast reunited for a 15th
anniversary concert.

But we hadn't seen the last of Spring Awakening just yet. Last year we were surprised by a special 15th anniversary concert including most of the original cast from the show. I was so frustrated I couldn't afford a ticket, but thankfully they decided to record it and make a documentary out of it. The film premiered on HBO like two weeks ago and it really touched me. From the moment Lea Michele sang the first notes of "Mama Who Bore Me", I knew I was about to cry. So many memories were unlocked.

It's crazy to think it's been 16 years since Spring Awakening premiered Off-Broadway. Some things remained the same, but others have changed. Spring is almost over. I'm no longer that clueless 10-year-old kid. I went through those green years and I learned from them, and now I can listen to that song of purple summer, still calling in the distance, but getting closer each day. That song has its own meaning to me: it's hope. If you endured the blue winds of spring, you deserve to enjoy your purple summer. It's the epilogue of one season, the coda after the finale, but it also represents the hope to start a brand new adventure.

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