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'Spring Awakening' brings teen angst, sexuality to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall

BY MICHELLE STARK

Times Staff Writer

Spring Awakening isn't the kind of musical you'd want to see with your grandma. Based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, it was banned for nearly 100 years for depicting controversial content including rape, abortion and teen sex. The touring Broadway musical, coming to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Friday, is set in Germany in the late 19th century, but it has all the overt sexuality of a raunchy Glee episode. Coming-of-age angst and the awkwardness of teen sexuality are set to a frenetic rock score written by Duncan Sheik, best known for his 1996 alternative rock hit Barely Breathing. We chatted with 22-year-old Elon University graduate Courtney Markowitz, who plays one of the main female characters, Ilse, about the play's sexual themes, what high schoolers can take away from it, and her own teenage memories.

When did you start performing?

My first professional show was at age 6, in A Christmas Carol. I grew up surrounded by theater.

Tell us about your character, Ilse.

She's one of a group of five girls in the play that are friends in 1890s Germany. Her character is abused in her household, so she takes her life into her own hands and leaves her house. She lives in an artists' colony, and other places. Her character is definitely symbolic of hope and overcoming obstacles.

What kind of reaction has the show received from a teen audience?

We get the best reactions from younger audiences. We're all playing 14- to 16-year-olds, and there's only two adult characters. All of our characters are going through their own personal journeys, so definitely at least one person on stage is someone that someone in the audience can relate to. At least one character has been through something that you've been through or that your friend has been through. Teen audiences relate so well to our show, because they are in the middle of what the characters are going through.

What can teens take away from the play's overt sexuality and themes of growing up/coming of age?

I think it's good for them to see that. We get a lot of teens who will come with their parents, and it can open up dialogue between teens and their parents. Teenagers all go through the same things; teens are going through the same thing today as in the play. It's also a great show to see with your friends. The music is very contemporary, and the soundtrack falls into the category of this generation's musical theater. It's enjoyable and fun.

How do you think you would have reacted to a play like this in high school?

I would've been obsessed with it. We were obsessed with it in college. . . . And the music is amazing. It's like a rock concert with a really amazing story.

>> Spring Awakening

The Tony Award-winning musical is here for three shows: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. $28-$70. Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.

'Spring Awakening' brings teen angst, sexuality to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 5:30am]

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