Spring Awakening had a number of workshops, concerts and rewrites over a seven-year period, including workshops at La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego, California, and the Roundabout Theatre Company, and a concert at Lincoln Center in February 2005, under the auspices of actor/producer Tom Hulce. It finally premiered Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company on May 19, 2006 and ran through August 5, 2006. The musical then opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on December 10, 2006 and closed on January 18, 2009, after 888 performances and 29 previews. Directed by Michael Mayer with choreography by Bill T. Jones, the costume designer is Susan Hilferty, set designer Christine Jones and lighting designer Kevin Adams. It received nearly unanimous favorable reviews.
Decca Broadway released the original cast recording on December 12, 2006, which won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 2008. The guitar Sheik used to compose songs for Spring Awakening is on display at the New York Library For The Performing Arts.
Wendla Bergmann, an adolescent in late-nineteenth century Germany, laments that her mother gave her “no way to handle things” and has not taught her the lessons she needs to learn (“Mama Who Bore Me”). She tells her mother that it is time she learned from where babies come, considering that she is about to be an aunt for the second time, but her mother cannot bring herself to explain the facts about conception clearly to Wendla. Instead, she simply tells Wendla that to conceive a child a woman must love her husband with all of her heart. The other young girls in town appear to be similarly innocent and are upset about the lack of knowledge presented to them (“Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)”).
At school, some teenage boys are studying Virgil in Latin class. When Moritz Stiefel, a very nervous and intense young man, sleepily misquotes a line, the teacher chastises him harshly. Moritz’s classmate, the rebellious and highly intelligent Melchior Gabor, tries to defend him, but the teacher will have none of it, and hits Melchior with a stick. Melchior reflects on the shallow narrow-mindedness of school and society and expresses his intent to change things (“All That’s Known”).
Moritz describes a dream that has been keeping him up at night, and Melchior realizes that Moritz has been having dreams of an erotic nature. To comfort the panicked Moritz, Melchior, who has learned sexual information from books, tells Moritz that all of the boys at their age get the dreams. The burned-out boys tell about their own frustrating thoughts and desires (“The Bitch of Living”). Moritz, who is not comfortable talking about the subject with Melchior, insists that he give him the information in the form of an essay, complete with illustrations.
Some girls are gathered together after school and tease each other as they fantasize about marrying the boys in the town. At the top of the list is the radical, intelligent, and good-looking Melchior. Meanwhile, Hanschen masturbates as he looks at an erotic postcard, and the piano student Georg indulges in some lively fantasies about his well-endowed female piano teacher (“My Junk”). Moritz has eagerly digested the essay that Melchior prepared for him, but complains that his new knowledge has only made his dreams even more vivid and torturous. Melchior tries to calm and comfort his friend, but Moritz runs off in frustration. All of the boys and girls express their desires for physical intimacy (“Touch Me”).
Searching for flowers for her mother, Wendla stumbles upon Melchior, who is reflecting on "the origin of shame" in his journal. The two share a moment while sitting together in front of a tree (they were childhood friends, but grew apart as they got older). Each of them considers what it would be like to give in to their physical desires, but they do not do so (“The Word of Your Body”). Meanwhile, at school, Moritz is thrilled to learn that he has passed his midterm examinations, but the teacher and schoolmaster cannot pass everyone, so they decide to fail Moritz.
Martha, one of the teenage girls, accidentally admits to her friends that her father abuses her physically (including sexual abuse) and that her mother is either oblivious or uncaring. The other girls are horrified to hear this, but Martha makes them promise not to tell anyone, lest she end up like Ilse, a friend from childhood who now wanders homeless and aimless because her parents kicked her out of the house. (“The Dark I Know Well”). Later, Wendla finds Melchior again at his spot in the woods and tells him that a Martha's father regularly abuses his daughter. Melchior is appalled to hear this, but Wendla convinces him to hit her with a switch, so that she can understand her friend’s pain. Melchior, at first, is determined to do nothing of the sort, but reluctantly complies. He gets carried away in the beating and throws her to the ground. He then runs off, disgusted with himself, as she weeps curled up on the ground. Alone, Wendla finds that Melchior has left his journal on the ground. She picks it up and takes it with her.
Moritz has failed his final examination, and his father reacts with disdain and contempt when Moritz tells him that he will not progress in school. Moritz writes to Melchior’s mother, his only adult friend, for money to flee to America; she tenderly but firmly denies his request and promises to write his parents to discourage them from being too hard on him (“And Then There Were None”).
In a stuffy hayloft during a storm, Melchior cries out in his frustration at being caught between childhood and adulthood (“The Mirror-Blue Night”). Wendla finds him once again, telling him she wants to return his journal, and each awkwardly apologizes for what happened the last time they met. Before long, they begin to kiss; Wendla resists his advances at first. Although she doesn't really understand what's going between them, Wendla is reluctant, sensing that what they are doing is something very powerful, and very unlike anything that she has known before. They begin to have sex as the lights go down. (“I Believe”).
Wendla and Melchior are finishing their moment of intimacy in the hayloft; they reflect on and discuss what has just happened (“The Guilty Ones”). Moritz, having been thrown out of his home, wanders the town at dusk, carrying a pistol (“Don’t Do Sadness”). He happens upon free-spirited Ilse, who has found refuge at an Artists' colony, she invites him to join her in sharing some childhood memories, and perhaps something more, but Moritz refuses (“Blue Wind”). Upset at his refusal, she leaves very hurt. She leaves. Changing his mind, he calls after her, but it is too late; she is gone. Moritz feels that he has lost everything. The world he sees is so very dark and cold. Believing that he has nowhere to turn, Moritz shoots himself.
At Moritz’s funeral, each of his friends drops a flower into his grave, and Melchior chastises Moritz’s father for being so cruel to his friend, as the other students look at Moritz’s father with disgust for pushing Moritz too hard when he was alive (“Left Behind”). Back at school, the schoolmaster and teacher feel the need to call attention away from Moritz whose death was a direct result of their actions. They search through Moritz's belongings and find the Essay on Sex which Melchior wrote for him (complete with detailed illustrations remember). They lay the blame of Moritz's death on Melchior, and although Melchior knows that he is not to blame, he knows there is nothing he can do to fight them, and he is expelled (“Totally Fucked”). Elsewhere that night, Hanschen meets up with his shy and delicate classmate Ernst. In a comedy-relief scene, Hanschen shares his pragmatic outlook on life with his classmate before seducing him. "Me? I'm like a pussycat. I just skim off the cream," is Hanschen's way of telling Ernst that he is special because he knows how to work the system of the world to his advantage. It is Ernst’s first sexual experience, and he tells Hanschen that he loves him as the two share a passionate kiss (“The Word of Your Body (Reprise)”).
Wendla has become ill, and her mother takes her to visit a doctor. He gives her some medication and assures them both that Wendla is suffering from anemia and will be fine, but he takes Wendla’s mother aside and tells her that Wendla is pregnant. When her mother confronts her with this information, Wendla is completely shocked, not understanding how this could have happened. She realizes that her mother lied to her about how babies are made. Although she berates her mother for leaving her ignorant, her mother rejects the guilt and insists Wendla tell her who the father is. Wendla reluctantly surrenders a passionate note Melchior sent her after they consummated their relationship. Wendla reflects somberly on her current condition and the circumstances that led her to this difficult position but ends with optimism about her future child (“Whispering”). Meanwhile, Melchior’s parents argue about their son’s fate; his mother does not believe that the essay he wrote for Moritz is sufficient reason to send him away to reform school. When Melchior’s father tells his wife about Wendla’s pregnancy, however, she agrees that they must send Melchior away, which they do without telling him that Wendla is pregnant.
At the reform school, Melchior gets into a fight with some boys who grab a letter he has just received from Wendla and use it in a masturbation game. As one of the boys reads from the letter, Melchior finally learns about Wendla and their child, and he escapes from the institution to find her. He does not know that Wendla’s mother has already taken her to an underground practitioner to have an abortion. When Melchior reaches town, he sends a message to Wendla’s friends to have her meet him at the cemetery at midnight. There, he stumbles across Moritz’s grave, and swears to himself that he and Wendla will raise their child in a compassionate and open environment. When Wendla is late to the meeting Melchior begins to feel a little uneasy. Looking around, Melchior, sees a grave he hadn't noticed before. He reads the name and sees that its Wendla. He realizes that she died from the abortion attempt. Overwhelmed by shock and grief, he takes out a razor with the intention of killing himself. Moritz’s and Wendla’s spirits rise from their graves to offer him their strength. They persuade him to journey on, and he resolves to live and to carry their memories with him forever. "Not gone, not gone," Wendla assures him in song. (“Those You’ve Known”).
Led by Ilse, everyone assembles onstage to sing “The Song of Purple Summer” about life and hope.