Musical brings North Hills native back home

The Tony-Award winning rock opera Spring Awakening is coming to Pittsburgh, and it’s sure to open more than a few eyes.

Spring Awakening, which won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2007, focuses on a group of young school children in 19th century Germany who deal with their coming-of-age sexuality in frank and honest terms.

“It’s definitely not an after-school special,” comments Andy Mentius, who plays Hanschen in the production. “It’s controversial, and we don’t tone anything down. I can see why it could be threatening to some potential audience members.”

Even still, Mentius said the musical was worth watching for all audiences.

“This play shows what can happen to kids who have no open dialogue with parents and don’t have proper information about their bodies,” he explains. “People who see this musical realize that it’s OK to ask questions and talk to people about what’s happening to them before tragic consequences.”

Spring Awakening features music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater. The rock opera, based on a controversial 1891 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind, includes graphic portrayals of masturbation, sex and abuse, much of which involves Mentius’ character, Hanschen.

“Hanschen is this rich, extremely arrogant, manipulative, mean boy in class who has no respect for anyone else,” Mentius, 22, explains.

In one of the more controversial scenes, Hanschen engages in gay sex with a younger boy, a scene Mentius says has had positive reactions by gay audiences.

“Young, gay kids come up to me and tell me they love that scene,” he says. “They said it was interesting to see a mean gay person manipulating someone instead of an overly sensitive, comical, stereotypical gay scene. I think it shows how progressive our play is since that scene is so sincere.”

Mentius noted that Hanschen might not be fully gay, however, as the character masturbates early in the musical to a picture of a woman.

“Hanschen thinks he is God’s gift to everything,” Mentius laughed. “It’s all about control for him. He seduces a younger boy in class because it’s easy to him. Control is control and he doesn’t see a difference.”

Audience members have applauded Mentius’ portrayal on the off-Broadway tour, as well as the entire rock opera in general.

“We are wrapping up our fifth week in Toronto and things are going great,” Mentius says. “Audience members have opened up to us and embraced us. We’ve had packed houses every night with standing ovations! People were really moved, which was an awesome feeling.”

He adds, “Our audience has been young, old and everyone in-between. I think that’s the way it should be.”

A North Hills native, Mentius is excited about brining Spring Awakening to his hometown May 26-31.

“I think Pittsburgh audiences will embrace it,” he says.

While the rock opera toured Toronto for five weeks, the production only has one week to spend in Pittsburgh; so Mentius wants to spread the word as much as possible.

“We had time in Toronto to build an audience, but we need to get word out now so people know about the musical in Pittsburgh,” Mentius says.

Mentius first became a fan of Spring Awakening when he saw the production at Atlantic Theater, New York City, in 2006.

“I was visiting a friend who lived there who told me if I was going to watch one play, it should be [Spring Awakening],” Mentius recalls. “I bought a ticket on a whim and was absolutely blown away.”

Mentius became such a fan that he created a group page dedicated to Spring Awakening on Facebook.

“I helped get word out about the musical, as well as moderate the page,” he says.

About a year after creating the page, Mentius posted information about open calls for a nationwide Spring Awakening tour. One of the auditions was to be held in Chicago, not far from the University of Michigan, where Mentius was studying musical theater.

“I decided to try out and got the part!” Mentius recalls. “It was truly a dream come true!”

While he plans to return to UM to complete his degree, Mentius is enjoying his time on his first national tour, playing a character he says is far from his own personality.

“I’ve always been a meek person while the Hanschen character is confident and outrageous,” he says. “But after shows, fans have come up to me and told me I was creepy and mean; so I guess that means they enjoyed my performance!”

Spring Awakening runs May 26-31 at Heinz Hall. For tickets contact www.pgharts.org or 412-456-6666.

The Q Archives and articles like this are republished here by the kind contribution of Tony Molnar-Strejcek, the publisher of Pittsburgh’s Out. Maintaining the cultural history of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Community is made possible by contributions by readers like you.