Thursday, 5 February 2009
Spring Awakening has opened to rave reviews at the Lyric Hammersmith. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph said of it: "this is a landmark show which, with a fair wind and a speedy move into the West End, will once again persuade young writers, and more importantly producers, that there is still a place for daring and originality in musical theatre".
Steven Sater, the Book and Lyric writer of Spring Awakening, came to talk to us at a Mercury Musical Developments Salon at the Actors' Centre just before it opened. Steven was exhausted with jet lag but gave us a very honest and insightful history of his work on the show and his background as a writer. Discovering that Spring Awakening had gone through 6 workshops and numerous pitfalls was both vindicating and depressing. But for all the tremendous hard work and tenacity it did all pay off and the show won 8 Tony Awards in the States and was nominated for 11. Steven said that it felt like a Tony for each year they had worked on the show.
When he first brought the musical to London everyone said no to it and producers all said that the music all sounded the same. This was partly because the original recording of the songs was all sung by the same person. But he did manage to get workshops and concert performances of the show in the States and eventually it was Atlantic Theatre Company who took the risk and put it on. Steven said that musical theatre is "a trial by fire" but he was prepared to "re-write endlessly". There were three years when nothing happened to the show and he described this as "the dark I know well"... which is a line in one of his songs. I think it is a phrase all writers know well for those times when they are waiting for something to happen.
He told us that he and the composer had made an important decision about the songs for the musical from the start. They were to act more as the internal dialogue of the characters, advancing the plot but not the action. They didn't want songs that could be spoken and didn't want them to act as recitative in any way. This decision has marked a change in musical theatre. Steven had been a playwright and poet originally but says that he is "in love with song writing now". He told us that he produces the lyrics almost fully formed and then gives them to his composer Duncan Sheik who sets them to music. This method seems to have worked very well for them and now he is able to "support his habit" as he calls it and is working on a number of new shows with his composer.
One piece of advice he gave us which I felt was very important was to have the right director connected to the show early on.
Life has changed for him but the gap between an idea and a new show being staged is always there, the offers come in now for him but it will always be a trial by fire for him and all of us. But I think he has really made a difference and for that I am deeply grateful.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Thursday, February 05, 2009