Ga-ga for Go-Go’s in giddy Head Over Heels

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Taylor Iman Jones as Mopsa (center) and the company perform “We Got the Beat,” the opening number of the new musical Head Over Heels, which features songs by the Go-Go’s. (below) Peppermint (center) is Pythio, The Oracle of Delphi, in the number “Vision of Nowness.” Photos by Joan Marcus

My love for the Go-Go’s began with my first Sony Walkman and the first cassette I bought to play in that Walkman: “Beauty and the Beat,” the debut album from the Go-Go’s featuring “We Got the Beat,” “This Town” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Almost 40 years later, I still have great affection for Belinda, Charlotte, Gina, Kathy and Jane, my first delicious taste of girl power before I even knew what that was.

How thrilling, then, to find the songs of the Go-Go’s fashioned into a fizzy new jukebox musical, Head Over Heels with the inventive concept of folding the punky-poppy ’80s tunes folded into a (greatly) adapted version of Sir Philip Sidney’s late 16th-century Arcadia. You’ve got song and text separated by more than four centuries, so it’s a mash-up of sensibilities with lots of room for cheeky humor and the exploding of gender norms.

All of that was on display when Head Over Heels opened April 18 at the Curran theater, but a lot has changed since the show’s first production three years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The whole creative team, headed by director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Hedwig on Broadway), is new, including book writer James Magruder, who replaces Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), who conceived this wacky idea in the first place. There’s a whole village of producers ahead of the title, including the Curran’s Carole Shorenstein Hays and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow, and an opening date on Broadway looming in the very near future (July).

As the out-of-town tryout before heading to Broadway, the production at the Curran reveals a show that is fizzy and fun (especially for those of us ga-ga for Go-Go’s) but with work still to be done before a New York bow to make the show really come together.

Sidney’s Arcadia surfaces here mostly to provide framework for a road trip comedy as the royal family of Arcadia attempts to outrun a doomsday prophecy by journeying to Bohemia. Otherwise, this is a pretend period comedy with a checklist of modern issues to address: lesbian love, inept men yielding power to more competent women, trans people achieving god-like status, certain body shapes subverting other body shapes to dismantle the beauty standard, cross-dressing men who access the divine female within and on and on. As checklists go, that’s a pretty great one, but you can feel the effort behind each tick mark.

With the Go-Go’s fueling the party (and an all-female band headed by Kimberly Grigsby that, unfortunately, we don’t get to see until the curtain call), there’s a mighty girl power vibe emanating from the stage, and that’s fantastic. Nothing against the male members of the cast, but how great would it be to go all the way and make this an all-woman cast. The original text is a relic from the 16th century when women weren’t allowed on stage, so let’s make up for some lost ground and just set the women loose on all the roles.

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And let’s make the band visible for all of the show’s 2 1/2-hours while we’re at it, which might mean eighty-sixing the flat “pastoral” set pieces by Julian Crouch, which, at best, feel like they’re borrowed from an old tour of Kiss Me Kate.

As is, Head Over Heels feels too polite and could use a little anarchy, some punk-lite to rough up the edges and make songs like “Lust to Love” and “Skidmarks on My Heart” and “Automatic Rainy Day” come to life even more. This is an enjoyable show, but I craved something bolder, edgier and even more cranked up.

The Go-Go’s songs sound great (music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt), and because they’re not theater songs, they don’t carry a lot of emotional weight (and sometimes don’t fully make sense, but who cares?). The title song, for instance, “Head Over Heels,” is a zippy Act 2 opener in which couples frolic. The more apt title for the show might be “We Got the Beat,” the show’s opener and a rather belabored attempt to tell us how Arcadia is special because of its passionate pulse or, if you will, its beat. At a certain point in the plot, Arcadia loses its beat, and the bright, jewel-toned colors of Kevin Adams’ lighting design fade and the stage goes blah. So keeping the beat is central to the show – why not the title?

What is most definitely not blah here is the cast, even when the material lets them down (like the entire ending). As the king and queen, Jeremy Kushnier and Rachel York get to be adulterous (with each other, no less), though it takes too long for us to hear York let loose with her glorious voice. She also gets saddled with an eye-roller of a monologue (about that elusive beat) that she conveys with such poignancy that it actually works.

As sisters Pamela and Philoclea, Bonnie Milligan and Alexandra Socha respectively get to explore vanity and sincerity. Pamela has to figure out why her hordes of suitors leave her so cold, while Philoclea wrestles with her love for a humble shepherd, Musidorus (Andrew Durand), an inappropriate match for a princess. Durand gets to do some major cross-dressing as an Amazon warrior, and he is as hilarious as he is endearing. He even makes the song “Mad About You” (not, technically, a Go-Go’s song but a solo hit for Belinda Carlisle) sweet instead of schmaltzy.

Taylor Iman Jones oozes charm as Mopsa, a narrator of sorts who breaks the fourth wall to move the plot along when necessary, and a major player in one of the romances. And then there’s Peppermint, the second-runner-up in Season Nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race, playing Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, savoring every quip and ounce of attitude the role has to offer.

The entire ensemble works hard to keep the energy level up, and if choreographer Spencer Liff’s moves are heavy on the hand-jive, there’s still a lot of verve, though not a lot of meaning.

After a dud of an ending, Head Over Heels cranks up the volume for the curtain call, reveals (at long last) the band at the back of the stage and invites the audience to get on their feet because they know we can dance to the beat. We may not jump and get down, but we can go round and round and round the idea that this is a show still finding itself, though it has most definitely got the beat.

Head Over Heels continues through May 6 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $29-$175. Call 415-358-1220 or visit

Hello, love: Hedwig slams her Angry Inch in our faces

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Darren Criss is Hedwig, a rock star with issues, in the Broadway touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Below: Lena Hall reprises her Tony Award-winning role as Yitzhak in Hedwig. Both Criss and Hall are San Francisco natives, and they kicked off the Broadway tour at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre in their hometown. Photos by Joan Marcus.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch launches its first Broadway national tour with the power of a barbecue fired with jet fuel. An explosion of rock, lights, humor and heart, this show is a rarity among rarities: a quirky late ’90s off-Broadway hit that inspired a devoted cult following that seemingly peaked with its big-screen adaptation in 2001. Over the years, however, Hedwig’s tragic tale of rejection and glam-rock transformation has traveled around the world and created an international league of Heheads.

By 2014, the next logical step for a misfit rock musical with a built-in and avid fan base was Broadway. Armed with director Michael Mayer and star Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig opened on Broadway to rapturous response and ran for a year and a half with five Hedwigs after the Tony-winning Harris departed the production. One of those Hedwigs, “Glee” heartthrob Darren Criss now headlines the national tour, which kicked off in fine form Wednesday night at the Golden Gate Theatre as part of the SHN season.

The show is essentially rock concert and monologue, making it an extraordinary showcase for its star, but creators John Cameron Mitchell (book and the original and still greatest Hedwig) and Stephen Trask (music and lyrics) add other levels to this show, including a secondary lead, Yitzhak, Hedwig’s Croatian husband, a former drag queen whose presence adds even more depth to the show’s gender fluidity and sexual vibrancy. For the tour, Yitzhak is played by the fierce Lena Hall, who won a Tony for the role on Broadway. In a delightful twist, Hall will take over as Hedwig for one performance a week (schedule below).

This tour recreates the Broadway production faithfully, right down to the concept that for one night only, Hedwig and her band, the Angry Inch (named after the result of her botched sex-change operation), are taking to the stage in a legit theater after the failure of Hurt Locker: The Musical (as on Broadway, the theater floor is littered with playbills for that bomb of a show, which opened the previous night and closed at intermission – do yourself a favor and spend time with that playbill because it is hilarious). The set for Hurt Locker remains, and Yitzhak performs a snippet of the show’s love theme. Otherwise, aside from some script tinkering to make it San Francisco-centric (references to the “newly annoying Mission,” Uber X, a gender-neutral bathroom on a idling Google bus, doing drugs in the Tenderloin as one does), this is Hedwig as she is meant to be seen: damaged, fabulous, ferocious, heartbroken, funny, loud and aggressively awesome.

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I saw Harris do the show on Broadway, and he was phenomenal, although he didn’t inhabit the character as fully or as emotionally as the remarkable Kevin Cahoon in the much scrappier San Francisco debut of the show at the Victoria Theatre in 2001. Every actor who dons Hedwig’s many (and marvelous) wigs will bring something unique to the party, and Criss brings extraordinary energy and a genuine rock vibe to the scorching score. He shows off some sharp comic timing, although his Hedwig voice seems less East Berlin than it does a governess raised in London by German parents. Aside from the songs, which he imbues with passion and grit, Criss’ best moments are those in which he’s playing the American characters: Luther, the GI who marries young Hansel, turns him into Hedwig and lands her in a Kansas mobile home; and Tommy Speck, an Army brat whom Hedwig takes under her wing (and then some) and turns into the rock star Tommy Gnosis. At 29, Criss is the youngest of the Broadway Hedwigs, and that’s a little problematic for a world weary and wise character who tosses off lines like, “One day in the late mid-’80s I was in my early late 20s.” Criss was born in the late ’80s, so when Hedwig is referencing Google buses and placing the action of the show in the here and now, it doesn’t fully make sense.

But Hedwig doesn’t have to fully make sense to be an extraordinary experience, and that’s what this is. Just hearing those songs played full throttle (the fiery four-piece band, under the music direction of Justin Craig are all from the Broadway company) is a transporting experience. Add in the fantastic costumes by Arianne Phillips (that hair dress!) and towering wigs by Mike Potter and you have a rock musical dream in the flesh. The nuclear explosion lighting design (by Kevin Adams) can be a bit much, but if elements of Hedwig aren’t a bit much, it’s not really Hedwig.

The nuance, tenderness and, ultimately power of Hall as Yitzhak provides ample evidence of why a seemingly secondary presence in the show would not only garner awards but make Hall a star. Hers is a voice that can be delicate and searing, and her physical transformation in the show is part of what makes the quasi-religious conclusion so mind-bogglingly glorious. Lift up your hands indeed.

[more on Hedwig]
Check out San Francisco kids Darren Criss and Lena Hall and composer Stephen Trask chatting about Hedwig and performing songs from the show here.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues through Oct. 30 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$212 (subject to change). Call 888-746-1799 or visit

From the department of YOU’RE NOT GOING TO WANT TO MISS THIS:

Lena Hall takes over as Hedwig on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 8pm, Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 8pm and Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 8pm.

Don’t wanna see no more American Idiot

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Van Hughes (left) is Johnny and Joshua Kobak is St. Jimmy in the Broadway tour of Green Day’s American Idiot now at the Orpheum Theatre. Below: The women of American Idiot work it out: from left, Leslie McDonel, Gabrielle McClinton (Whatsername) and Krystina Alabado, Talia Aaron, Nicci Claspell and Jillian Mueller. Photos by Doug Hamilton

The inevitable homecoming is upon us. The Broadway musical version of Green Day’s American Idiot, which had its world premiere in 2009 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, has returned to the Bay Area as part of the SHN season.

As an employee of Berkeley Rep at the time of the show’s premiere, I was deeply immersed in the world of Green Day, big Broadway producers and a world of expectations riding on the shoulders of this 90-minute rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza. It was a blast to have an inside seat for the creation of such an exciting show. But my vantage point also prevented me from really seeing the show with fresh eyes.

There were things I liked about it and things I didn’t. The Green Day score, especially as orchestrated, arranged and supervised by Tom Kitt, was by far the best part. Kitt succeeded masterfully in capturing the rock pulse of the music and then finding ways to infuse it with range and emotion it didn’t have on record.

I had trouble connecting to the bare-bones story of three 20something friends battling their apathy in the suburbs by attempting to make big life choices. The narrative was cloudy at best, and the dialogue, what little exists, was corny and not very helpful

Of course the show changed and evolved through the Berkeley run and then moved on to Broadway (where it won two Tony Awards, for Christine Jones’ set and Kevin Adams’ lights, of which there are many). Though the show has been tightened and tweaked, my feelings about it remain pretty much the same. It’s a whole lot of flash and energy signifying…if not nothing, then nothing much.

American Idiot mostly makes me feel old, not that I’m so aged I can’t connect with rock music or disaffected young people – I deal with both of those fairly regularly in life and on stage. No, Idiot makes me feel old because the constant movement of Stephen Hoggett’s choreography or the incessant visual noise of Darrel Maloney’s projections on what seems like three dozen TV screens gets on my nerves rather quickly. There’s so little story to distract me and so much unfocused anger that I grow weary of a show that’s really just a more carefully directed rock concert. And rock concerts are fine, but they’re not Broadway musicals.

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Director Michael Mayer, who did such thrillingly detailed work with Spring Awakening is going bigger, louder, brasher here. The book, which Mayer co-wrote with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is still the show’s weakest element. I simply don’t care enough about Johnny (Van Hughes), Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) or Will (Jake Epstein) to become fully immersed in the world of the show. The strongest story of the three belongs to Tunny, who joins the army and heads off to the Middle East, but more stage time is given to Johnny and his downward spiral into the world of big city hedonism and drug addiction (thanks to the powerful influence of St. Jimmy, played by Joshua Kobak as if he were visiting from The Rocky Horror Show).

Without a strong connection to story, the music is just the music rather than a deeper story element or emotional connection between audience and character. But the music is mostly fantastic, so there are pleasures to be had as this wildly energetic young cast wails their way through the Idiot roster. Musical director/keyboardist Jared Stein whips his five-piece, on-stage band into a respectable frenzy, especially during “Holiday,” a highlight, and the rousing title song.

I enjoyed Jarran Muse’s performance of “Favorite Son” and found the flying sequence – an injured man’s “I Dream of Jeanie” fantasy – beautifully executed by Campbell and Nicci Claspell. Hughes’ performance of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was almost moving, and Gabrielle McClinton’s lead on “Letterbomb” generated some real fire.

There’s plenty to enjoy in this 90-minute musical, but it feels like fast food. In and out easily and not much nutritional value. There’s even a slightly dated feel to the proceedings, like finding yourself at a punk carnival where no one really wants to be.

[Bonus interviews]

I talked to director Michael Mayer about how American Idiot changed from opening day to Broadway to the tour for Theatre Bay Area. Read the interview here.

I also talked to Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Kitt about his extraordinary work translating the Green Day music for the Broadway stage for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the interview here.

Green Day’s American Idiot continues through July 15 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $31-$100. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Green Day at Berkeley Rep

Berkeley Repertory Theatre is rocking and rolling with Green Day.

After the success of Stew’s Passing Strange, it seems Berkeley Rep can’t get enough of the rock. Already announced for the 2009-10 season was the world premiere of Girlfriend, a stage adaptation of Matthew Sweet’s album of the same name.

Today comes official word that Berkeley Rep will kick off the season with the world premiere stage adaptation of Green Day’s landmark 2004 album American Idiot.

Band members Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool are collaborating with director Michael Mayer, a Tony Award winner for Spring Awakening. The show, featuring an onstage band and an ensemble of 19 young performers, runs Sept. 4-Oct. 11.

Said Armstrong in a statement: “We are really excited to be working with Michael Mayer on this project. We’d been thinking of bringing American Idiot to the stage, but we knew we needed to find the right partners. After meeting with Michael to discuss the possibility, he invited us to see Spring Awakening. We were so impressed with that production, as well as his vision for American Idiot, that we knew we’d found the perfect collaborator. Plus, doing it in our hometown at Berkeley Rep was an obvious bonus. They’re an amazing theater group, very adventurous, and their willingness to take chances in keeping with the spirit of the album. The end result will be terrific, and we’re really proud.”

Mayer said that when he heard American Idiot, he recognized a work that was “begging to be staged.”

“Who would have thought that one of the most brutally honest, eloquent, passionate, funny and poetic theatrical responses to the post-9/11 world would be a Green Day record?” Mayer said. “The connection I felt to American Idiot surprised me. I knew and liked Green Day but had no clue that I would ever feel so inside their songs. This work of passion and vision and fierce intelligence seemed to me like the heartbeat of a generation of Americans who were fed up. I hear in these amazing songs the articulation of their frustration, anger, longing for a better world — a journey from apathy to action. Collaborating with Billie Joe and the band is a mind-blowing thrill, and I can’t wait to begin production at Berkeley Rep, the perfect home for making a new kind of musical event.”

American Idiot, Green Day’s seventh album, was nominated for seven Grammy Awards and won two, including Rock Album of the Year. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and spawned five hit singles, including the title track, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Holiday.”

Tickets to American Idiot are available for select preview performances only at or at 510-647-2949.

Here’s Green Day’s video for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”:

Review: `Spring Awakening’

Opened Sept. 7, 2008 at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco

Kyle Riabko and Christy Altomare are Melchior and Wendla, the doomed lovers in Spring Awakening, the Tony Award-winning musical that launched its national tour at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Photos by Paul Kolnik.


Sex, violence and rock ‘n’ roll: `Spring Awakening’ jolts San Francisco

It’s appropriate that on the very same night Rent ended its 12-year run on Broadway, Spring Awakening officially launched its national tour at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season.

Both shows re-imagine older texts – for Rent it was Puccini’s La Boheme, for Spring Awakening it was Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play of the same name – and infuse them with elements of pop, rock and Broadway. And each show in its own way has taken musical theater a step away from extinction.

Unlike Rent, which never really had a chance to be finished, Spring Awakening is an expertly crafted masterwork in the art of musical theater. The show, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, connects on a powerfully emotional and visceral level. It breaks all the rules and dares to be as bold as it is beautiful.

The national touring company that opened Sunday night is every bit as good as the original Broadway company – in some cases better — and the production itself is just as electrifying. The young performers, ranging in age from 18 to 27, attack the piece with gusto and don’t shy away from the sex, nudity, masturbation, violence and rock ‘n’ roll rebellion that infuses its 2 ½ hours.

Director Michael Mayer maintains firm control over the proceedings, guiding his vibrant young performers to an astonishing level of honesty as they veer between the late 19th-century play about adult repression of hormonal teenagers and the 21st-century rock concert that unleashes a torrent of emotions. It helps that Christine Jones’ set keeps things simple (with audience members seated on the right and left sides of the stage) for the scenes and then allows Kevin Adams’ gorgeous lighting design to wash over the stage and provide rock concert energy during the songs.

Heading the cast is Kyle Riabko as Melchior Gabor, a bright young man “of distinct intellectual capacity,” as Sater puts it, and Blake Bashoff as Moritz Stiefel, a “neurasthenic imbecile” and Melchior’s best friend.

Moritz, with his punk-rock haircut and desperate face, is the show’s anti-hero with a too-active mind (and libido) and nowhere to channel his considerable energies. Bashoff’s take on the character is more comic to start, but when, in Act 2, Moritz’s story turns tragic, Bashoff is like an exposed nerve, and his pain is palpable, most notably in the raging “Don’t Do Sadness.”

Melchior is a much smoother character, but he has his share of inner turmoil, which Riabko communicates effectively. In the devastating second act, this young Canadian rock star proves himself an actor of considerable depth and commitment. He gives a great performance and bears the emotional weight of the play in his extraordinary ballad “Those You’ve Known.”

Christy Altomare is Wendla Bergman, a curious young woman who inspires the show’s (and the original play’s) most provocative scene when she asks Melchior to beat her because her comfortable life has been so devoid of acute feeling or sensation. Stunningly beautiful and with a voice to match, Altomare is entirely believable as someone trapped in the chasm between child and adult, and her performance of “Whispering,” a ballad tinged with hope and tragedy, is shattering.

The power of the entire ensemble, which includes Angela Reed and Henry Stram as all the adult characters, is undeniable, especially when they join voices on songs such as “Touch Me,” “I Believe” and the exquisite, heart-rending “Song of Purple Summer.” AnnMarie Milazzo’s vocal arrangements find the rich textures of Sheik’s gorgeous music, and music director Jared Stein is able to take his seven-piece band from the delicate chamber sound to full-on rock ‘n’ roll rage.

And then there are those incredible moments of chaos amid the sadness and balladry. First we get the boys, in the midst of a stern, abusive Latin lesson, breaking into “The Bitch of Living,” and then we get the entire cast exploding into teenage anarchy in “Totally F***ed.” Both numbers feature the extraordinary choreography of Bill T. Jones, whose gestural vocabulary, built slowly and subtly throughout the show, erupts into a storm of bodies punctuating the air with expressed anger and the joy of sweet release.

We’ve been told that in musicals, the songs should forward the story or reveal character, but here, Sheik and Sater’s songs don’t usually do that. They’re more like emotional commentary, a bridge between the late 1800s and now. It’s a score that is immediately appealing and accessible but that rewards the listener with something new on every listen.

The cast performs expertly — Steffi D as Ilse, a young woman cast out of her home to fend for herself, makes a huge impression on “Blue Wind” – but there are places where more performance experience will reveal further depths.

That said, there’s no denying the power and sheer beauty of this remarkable show.

Will Spring Awakening have the staying power of Rent? I’d venture to say it will have more than staying power: it will go down in musical history as one of the greats.


Spring Awakening continues through Oct. 12 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit or for information.

Director address: Michael Mayer on `Spring Awakening’

Michael Mayer
, the Tony Award-winning director of Spring Awakening, remembers people looking at his show and saying things like: “You can’t be unconventional.” “That’s choreography?” “This is a musical?”

And Mayer is just fine with those questions.

“We didn’t set out to break rules,” Mayer says. “The idea was to tell this story, and this is the way we figured out how to do it.”

The “we” in this case is book/lyrics writer Steven Sater, adapting a late 1800s German play by Frank Wedekind, composer Duncan Sheik, choreographer Bill T. Jones and a passel of producers.

“We weren’t looking to Broadway,” Mayer recalls of the long gestation period for Spring go from play to pop-rock musical. “It took us seven years to produce this fucking thing. The goal was not to do a Broadway musical but to do Spring Awakening as a musical. It is miraculous and fantastic that Broadway became the final destination. Against all the odds, too, because this show plays by its own rules. Completely.”

Spring Awakening, about German teens coming of age and discovering sexuality in a highly repressive society, is sort of a play with a rock musical mixed in. Scenes stop, young actors whip out handheld microphones and launch into gorgeous, occasionally raucous, songs.

“The music functions differently here than in other musicals,” Mayer says. “It’s not a conventional musical where songs are concerned with character and logical storytelling in a narrative sense. There is an intentional dichotomy between the scenes and the songs.”

Some of Jones’ choreography, as in “The Bitch of Living” or “Totally Fucked,” is incredibly energetic – leaping of chairs and desks, jumping, spinning, chaotic flinging – and it feels somewhat dangerous. Mayer likes that.

“If the number feels safe, it’s not as exciting,” he says. “That said, we don’t take it to the point of injuries. Bill and I are constantly striving for the kids to push to the edge so it feels dangerous. Being careful in this show is only good in the scenes when you’re aware of how careful the characters need to be so they don’t transgress against the watchful eyes of adults. The story is all about transgression, but even then, `careful’ isn’t one of our watchwords. Au contraire. Try to be as risky as possible – emotionally, physically, musically.”

For the national tour of Spring Awakening, now at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre through Oct. 12, Mayer and his team scoured the country for fresh young performers, many of whom are making their professional debut.

“It’s tricky,” Mayer says. “We need the kids to deliver a professional show but still have the raw quality that is so important. The work is in some ways easier because they’re so close to who the characters are – they can relate.”

Undoubtedly, Spring Awakening will hit audiences young and old the way it continues to do on Broadway.

“I think what we love, all of us, is how bold the whole conceit of the show is and how brave it is for the performers to put themselves out there in such an extreme way,” Mayer says. “It pays off, and it’s personal. I ask for a deeply personal investment to be made in the song so that we almost get the sense of who the performers are as people through the song as opposed to just who their characters are. I feel like the audience can fall in love with these actors during this song as well as care about the characters’ journey. That’s why the audience gets so invested.”

One secret to the show’s success, something that took “weeks and weeks and weeks” to get right, according to Mayer, is the sound design.

“It’s very complex, and so much of the show is the band and the sound of the voices,” he says. “Once we got it right, you add in the audience response, and it’s completely not like any other show. It just isn’t.”

Spring Awakening continues through Oct. 12 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit or