“We all joke about what the f– a purple summer means”, Michael Meyer tells in The ones you knewHBO’s new documentary on spring awakening. He talks about “The Song of Purple Summer”, the last song of the series. He directed the musical that took over Broadway in 2006, and he has his own version of what that metaphor means. In fact, each person on the creative team and cast has their own interpretation of it.
To me, it always felt more like a coda than a conclusion. The penultimate issue, “Those You’ve Known”, functions structurally like the finale, bringing Melchior’s story to a tragic resolution. I won’t spoil the ending, despite the fact that the original play this musical was inspired by has been around for over a hundred years. But once that song is over, after generally moving the audience to tears, all of the cast returns to the stage for a vibrant rendition of that song about “purple summer.” It’s probably the only moment in the entire show that feels upbeat and full of joy.
If you Google “purple summer” you will literally find everything from pictures of purple flowers to a luxury villa called Purple Summer in Ibiza. So what is it? Is it a flower that only blooms in summer? What if spring represents green, innocent childhood, and purple summer is an analogy to adulthood? The truth is, this Tony Award-winning musical leaves room for interpretation, allowing audiences to connect the dots and make connections with the material.
The show was written by Steven Saterwith music composed by Duncan Sheikhand it was inspired by the German play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891. The 19th century play went unproduced for years, as it was banned due to its controversial themes. spring awakening dealt with every taboo subject you could think of, including sexuality, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and suicide. The main antagonist was the silence of the adults; this tranquility fueled by fear and encouraged by this false belief that problems will go away if we don’t talk about them.
Things haven’t really changed much since then. I didn’t grow up in a German village in the 1890s, yet I often come across this same antagonist. With these themes still very current, Sater and Sheik turned this story into a rock musical capable of captivating modern audiences. The show finally premiered Off-Broadway in May 2006, after 7 years of development and workshops.
According to the documentary, spring awakening was well received by audiences and critics. However, when they made the decision to transfer to Broadway, they weren’t sure if it was going to work. The musical moved to the Eugene O’Neill Theater anyway, and despite positive reviews, it failed to attract enough audiences. It was until the show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards (and won 8) that people started showing up. As a result, one of the biggest fanbases Broadway had ever seen was born.
I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the material (I was 10), but as I got older it became more and more obvious that I needed to rewatch the show, and I actually found advice , especially since I went through that transition from childhood to adulthood, just like the characters on the show. When I was a teenager, they also refused to talk to me about certain sensitive topics, just like Wendla (originally played by Lea Michele) at the start of the show. There was no Melchior (represented by Jonathan Groff on the show) to help me understand what was going on, but there was a spring awakening casting recording that I could listen to. Even once in a while, the blue winds would affect me, like they affected Mortiz on the show, but the hope of singing a purple summer song kept me going.
These songs were like hymns to me. And those characters, and the actors who played them, were like family to me. The cast of this show was made up of many young, unknown artists who found greater recognition later in their careers. Lea and Jonathan starred in Joy; Jonathan may even have been in the most recent Matrix movie, and he played King George on hamilton.
John Gallagher Jr. won a Tony Award for portraying Moritz, and a few years later would work on the Green Day musical, american idiot; he appeared on HBO Writing and he played Mason in Short term 12, beside Brie Larson. Skylar Astin did everything Perfect for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist; and even Krista Rodriguezwho was a swing in the series, would later appear in some TV shows (like To break, Halston and Gossip Girl), and she has also helmed several successful musicals, including Deaf West’s revival of spring awakening.
Deaf West’s rendition of the show was every bit as brilliant as the original production. For this version, some of the characters were deaf and they were able to play with the concept of adults and children with communication problems. The show took on a new meaning and that made it even more powerful.
But we hadn’t seen the last of spring awakening just now. Last year we were surprised by a special 15th anniversary concert featuring most of the show’s original cast. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t afford a ticket, but luckily they decided to tape it and make a documentary out of it. The movie premiered on HBO about two weeks ago and it really touched me. For the time being Lea Michele sang the first notes of “Mama Who Bore Me”, I knew I was going to cry. So many memories have been unlocked.
It’s crazy to think that it’s been 16 years since spring awakening created Off-Broadway. Some things have stayed the same, but others have changed. Spring is almost over. I’m not that ignorant 10-year-old kid anymore. I walked through those green years and learned from them, and now I can listen to that song of the purple summer, always calling in the distance, but getting closer every day. This song has its own meaning for me: it’s hope. If you’ve endured the blue winds of spring, you deserve to enjoy your purple summer. It’s the epilogue of a season, the coda after the finale, but it’s also the hope of starting a whole new adventure.