Alert, fans of musicals about angst-ridden teens: composer Duncan Sheik recently gave word that a Spring Awakening movie might be made this year. But even the biggest Spring Awakening fan (read: me) might have pause about a movie version. How would this actually work?
Sheik told the San Diego Union-Tribune (via Broadway World) that he and writer-lyricist Steven Sater are "trying to get the 'Spring Awakening' movie made this year. It’s in process, and we have a fancy director (McG) and a fancy producer (Playtone, Tom Hanks’ company) involved. So fingers crossed we’ll be diving into it." Now, there are many things in that statement that should give one pause. McG being involved is one. Another is that a movie has been talked about for a while, but has yet to happen. In 2012, Marc Snetiker at Entertainment Weekly reported that rumors that Lea Michele was in talks to star as Wendla, the role she originated, were not exactly true. While there had been discussions about Michele reprising her role, there was "nothing confirmed at the time."
Sheik may be aiming high, but if this really is going forward, we have three suggestions for how to make it work.
1. Cast Complete Unknowns
Though the original cast members are now famous, they are too old for the movie. Let us never forget the failure that was the Rent movie when it tried to ignore a ten-year age gap. Jonathan Groff is a 29-year-old hanging around San Francisco in Looking. John Gallagher Jr. is a reporter on The Newsroom. Skylar Astin went to college in Pitch Perfect. Lea Michele has even graduated high school on Glee. And while surely a teen pop star like Ariana Grande has the right hair for Wendla, the charm of something like Spring Awakening is that it's a great platform to launch new talent. The musical worked as well as it did because no kid—not even Rachel Berry herself—was too polished.
2. Keep the Theatricality
I have a sentimental attachment to Spring Awakening in part because I saw the musical when I was an emotional 16 year old, but I'm fully willing to admit that the show would not have worked if not for its conscious theatricality. The governing concept of Spring Awakening was that while the characters dressed like 19th Century German school children, when it was time to sing they often grabbed microphones and acted like rock stars. Without that conceit, the show would have been a melodramatic slog. With it, it became a melodramatic good time. McG needs to find way to emulate that on screen.
3. Make it R-Rated
There's a financial argument to make the movie PG-13: it's a show about teenagers, after all, so teenagers should be able to see it. But if held up to the rigors of the MPAA, the stage version certainly wouldn't get a PG-13. There's a song that repeats the word "fucked" over and over again. There's light nudity. (Jonathan Groff had some good training for HBO.) Censor it and you'd get something like the Tony Awards performances wherein the cast members covered their mouths instead of saying the titular curse word during a performance of "Totally Fucked."
Basically, make it right or don't make it at all.