Newly renamed Bucknall Theater holds first musical, Spring Awakening

Ashley Winward

Alumnus William L. Bucknall Jr. was in attendance at a sold out opening night in the theater newly renamed in his honor just a few weeks ago.

Final scene from Spring Awakening of cast singing "The Song of Purple Summer" (photo provided by Heather Konish)
Final scene from Spring Awakening of cast singing “The Song of Purple Summer” (photo provided by Heather Konish)

In the first major performance since this renaming, the University of New Haven’s Theater Department put on five performances of the rock musical, Spring Awakening. While known for being a controversial musical with a 17+ age recommendation on its publicity, the seats were packed to see some of UNH’s best and brightest perform.

Spring Awakening is based on a play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, which was banned in Germany for a long time due to its content and portrayal of topics such as abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. The show tells the tale of a group of adolescents growing up in Germany trying to deal with the trials and tribulations of puberty amongst other feelings new to them. Best friends Melchior Gabor, played by Junior Keith Watford, and Moritz Steifel, played by Junior Zackary Grabko, are the focus of the story, dealing with sexual frustration, intimacy, and love. Steifel is plagued by erotic dreams at night and in trying to help, Gabor writes an essay about his sexual knowledge that makes Steifel even more shaken.

Meanwhile, Wendla, played by both Kiera Terrell and understudy Amanda Schumacher, is dealing with her own exploration of sexuality, trying to learn where babies come from and battling her inner struggle between love and the ways of the church; a common thread for many characters in the musical.

Through ensemble numbers like “My Junk” and “Touch Me,” each actor and actress truly shined as well as worked together as a cohesive unit. The story has a not so happy ending with the group plagued by death and suicide leaving young Gabor to rethink his views on life entirely.

Being such a heavy-content driven show, it was a difficult performance for actors and audiences alike. Members of the university’s victimology and counseling staffs were available at each show and informational pamphlets on some of the production’s topics such as rape and abuse were available in the lobby. Also after each performance there was a “talk back,” where the actors came out and answered questions from the audience about putting on the show as well as the various topics in the show.

Five members of the cast and crew have already been awarded for their participation in the show. Watford and Grabko were nominated for the Irene Ryan acting award at the Kenedy Center College Theatre Festival with additional nominations in musical theatre for Damianis Eusebio (Ilse), Set design for Heather Konish and Alec Smith for Stage Management. The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival is a national program started in 1969 and involving over 600 academic institutions throughout the country.