HBO’s ‘Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known’ Documentary Arrived Exactly When We Needed It

It feels almost surreal that we got a documentary about Spring Awakening in the midst of the Supreme Court leak stating that they’re planning to overturn Roe V. Wade. The Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater musical takes the sexual oppression of the Frank Wedekind play of the same name and amps it up with aggressive internal songs from its characters, courtesy of Sheik’s composition and Sater’s lyrics.

And it’s all about the lack of resources and understanding about sex and sexual awakenings and the horrors that it can inflict. So yes, watching the documentary Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known and recognized just how relevant this show still is, was a bit jarring.

I came to love Spring Awakening when it was still on Broadway and finally saw it for the first time in early 2010 when the national tour came to where I lived. I got to see Melchior and Wendla explore their love for each other and I watched quickly (and with horror) as Wendla realized that she was pregnant because her mother wouldn’t tell her anything about sex and reproduction.

It’s a show that has a mother taking her daughter to get an abortion that results in her death. It isn’t easy to understand and it’s fascinating that we all flocked to it as teenagers and continued to find love for it as we got older. But it’s terrifying to know that this show is still incredibly timely and one that was made even more important with the SCOTUS ruling.

Spring Awakening is a look into repression and what happens when you’re forced into a world of not knowing. Mainly without your own ability to do anything about it. For Wendla, her mother treats her like a child but won’t let he act like a kid either.

spring awakening lea michelle jonathan groff
Courtesy of HBO Max

The first moment we see her, she’s singing the song “Mama Who Bore Me” and it goes into a scene where her mother tells her that her dress is too short for her now and too revealing but when Wendla asks about being an aunt and how it happened, her mother instantly is back into thinking her too young to know anything despite Wendla being a teenager.

Compare that to Melchior Gabor, who knows all about sex yet doesn’t understand why it’s a “bad” thing that he knew and still slept with Wendla, and it’s clear that none of the adults in the lives of these kids wants to do what is necessary and have a conversation with them. Which is, in a way, a perfect reflection on our government and how they’d rather just take away rights from human beings instead of putting the proper institutions in place to help individuals.

So watching Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known and seeing just how relevant the show still is. Maybe even more so than when I first fell in love with it. We’re living through a cultural shift that’s not for the better. We have things in Florida like the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” which is forcing kids into silence, and we have the overturning of Roe V. Wade, all of these are themes that were present in the original 1891 play and very much still present in the Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater musical.

I just wish it wasn’t as relevant. I love this show and I want to see multiple productions of it all the time but I just wish that didn’t come with the fact that it is still something we’re dealing with in our world. I think you could have staged this production or done this documentary at any time but it just feels incredibly timely for this to come out the same week of the SCOTUS leak.

If you haven’t watched Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known, it’s a great look into the success of the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening but it is also just a show that can mean so much to audiences and it just feels heartbreaking to know that it will continue to have that impact for the wrong reasons.

The world is changing in a way that is reflecting what was happening in 1891 when Wedekind first wrote Spring Awakening so watching the documentary and thinking of the show in 2022 and how things are still sort of the same when it comes to sex is…heartbreaking.

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Image Credit: HBO Max.

Rachel Leishman is a writer based in New York City.  She specializes in yelling about her favorite properties. A real-life Leslie Knope, she loves her fictional characters and knows probably too much about Harrison Ford's career.