| PARTY LIKE IT’S 1891: “My Junk” from Spring Awakening |
IMAGE: Paul Kolnik
Duncan Sheik is the gayest straight man I’ve ever met.
I grasped that the night I took the singer-songwriter on a tour of local titty bars back in February 2006. As he sat in the back of my rusty ’81 Jeep Wagoneer, lamenting the Magic Gardens’ wine choices, he talked about a little show he was writing the music for.
It was called Spring Awakening.
In 2007, that “little show”—based on a scandalous 1891 German play of the same name—won eight Tony Awards, including best musical; Sheik won for best score. A tale of Imperial Era German teens discovering their sexual selves while singing Sheik’s brand of alt-rock, the show begins a six-day run at
“There was a long stretch, between ’99 and ’06, I wasn’t reaching the audience I was hoping to reach, not remotely,” said Sheik, best known for his ’96 hit Barely Breathing, from New York. “I’d be like, ‘Yeah, a new record’s coming out. I’m really psyched!’ and it would be very anticlimactic. Even with Spring Awakening, there were so many false starts it was hard to keep a positive attitude.”
But that didn’t stop Sheik. “There were definitely more than a few moments where I felt our concept was too weird and that no one would get the idea that it’s set in 1891, but the music is modern. That was pretty much everyone’s reaction until we found younger theater producers who were interested in it.”
Although it may have taken the practicing Buddhist and his collaborators seven years of stops and starts before finally hitting Broadway, Sheik believes the show couldn’t tour the states at a better time. “There’s a moment when Wendla has become pregnant and tells her mother, ‘but Mom, I’m not married.’ Everyone in the audience burst into applause because [the tour’s opening night in San Francisco] was the day after the news broke that Sarah Palin’s daughter was pregnant by her boyfriend.”
What does make sense to Sheik is that audiences are more sophisticated than they get credit for—something he learned while touring his own music. “Spring Awakening isn’t that avant garde. Sure, there are rules we break, and it’s a different musical aesthetic, but it’s not this inscrutable thing that people who don’t have a doctorate degree in German philosophy can’t understand.”
As for the sex stuff, “I think it’s done in an elegant way,” Sheik says. “It’s just a young woman showing her bare breasts and a young man shoving his ass in the air. You have to have a real problem with sexuality if you to go to Spring Awakening and feel like it’s crude or something. I think somebody who would have that reaction needs therapy.”
And the gay thing? “The truth is, there’s not a huge amount of testosterone in my music. That’s not just really that interesting to me. And so it makes sense I’ve got a really amazing gay audience. That actually makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
SEE IT: Spring Awakening,