[Broadway Ad Network]

[Broadway Ad Network]

Follow Spot
by Michael Portantiere

Giuseppe Bausilio's Spring Awakening

  • GiuseppeBausilio-caption.jpgThere's a paradox surrounding Frank Wedekind's 1891 play Spring Awakening (or Spring's Awakening, depending on the translation) and its latter-day musical version, a paradox that also exists with Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: These powerful works about tragic teenagers require so much from actors that they are rarely cast age-appropriately -- at least, not on a professional level. Even in the Broadway production of the musical Spring Awakening, with its uncommonly young cast, most of the performers who appeared as adolescents were actually college-age or slightly older.

    If you want to experience the original, non-musical Spring's Awakening with a cast as age-appropriate as you're ever likely to see, consider the current Marvell Rep staging of Wedekind's play. Now on view at the TBG Theater, where it's running in rep with Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance as part of a series titled "Banned and Burned," the show features 15-year-old Giuseppe Bausilio as Melchior Gabor, and the rest of the leads -- save for the adult roles, of course -- are being played by actors who are only a few years older than that.

    Bausilio has an outstandingly impressive CV for someone who's only halfway through the second decade of his life. Trained as a ballet dancer by his mother at home in Bern, Switzerland, he placed second in the 2012 Youth America Grand Prix World Ballet competition. Musical theater fans may know him for his stint in the title role of Billy Elliot; he appeared first in the Chicago company, then in the national tour, and finally on Broadway. Giuseppe is also trained as a jazz musician, an acrobat, and a martial artist. He speaks seven languages, but since my Italian and French are not much better than rudimentary, we spoke English for our recent interview, held in the office of Susan L. Schulman (Marvell Rep's press agent) with Susan and Giuseppe's proud mom on hand.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Were you familiar with Spring's Awakening before you auditioned?

    GIUSEPPE BAUSILIO: I had seen the poster of the musical, the one with the guy with the crazy hair and the microphone, but that was it. I had no idea what it was all about. I saw the audition notice for this play on ActorsAccess.com, I submitted my resume, and they sent me the script and the sides. At the first audition, the director said, "That was okay, but it was 70 percent. I want you to come back tomorrow with 100 percent." So I went home and coached with my mom. A lot of kids are annoyed by their parents' coaching, but I really click with my mom. She's been my ballet teacher since I was four. [His mother smiles.] I auditioned again, and I got the part. I'm 15, and I guess I connect with the character of Melchior really well. If I was 21 or 22 playing a 15 year old, it would definitely feel a lot different.

    STARS: As noted on the Marvell Rep website, Spring's Awakening has often been censored and labeled "perverse" for its subject matter, which includes sex among adolescents, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, abortion, and suicide. One of the major differences between the play and the musical is that, in the musical, the sex scene with Melchior and Wendla is much more consensual on her part.

    GB: Yes. I watched clips of the musical on YouTube, and I definitely saw the change in that scene. Melchior battles with his emotions so much; he feels love, but he doesn't want to think about it. In the musical, Melchior and Wendla love each other, and they have sex together. In the play, Wendla tells Melchior to stop, but by that point, his instincts have taken over.

    STARS: In the Broadway production of the musical, the staging of that scene was very explicit. How is it done in your production?

    GB: Well, I wouldn't say it's meant for an eight-year-old child to see, but a 14-year-old should definitely be okay with it. At 13 or 14, you start getting interested in those things.

    STARS: One of the main points of the both the play and the musical is to show the tragedy that can result when parents are unwilling or unable to talk to their children about the facts of life.

    GB: Yes. Even today, there are some parents who don't talk to their children about sex. And in the 19th century, it was crazy, with all these children's stories about "the stork." My great grandma was told that the baby came out of the knee. When she got pregnant, she freaked. Finally, her uncle came to her and told her the truth.

    STARS: I think there's a general feeling that Americans are more prudish than Europeans when it comes to discussion of sexual matters. Would you agree?

    GB: Absolutely. In Italy, France, and Switzerland, they talk about those things all the time. And in Switzerland, where I grew up, sex education is required.

    STARS: I must ask you about Billy Elliot. When did you first go into the show?

    GB: I started in Chicago in 2009, when I was 12. I got to work with all of the original creatives there -- Stephen Daldry, Julian Webber, Elton John. Then I joined the tour, and then they asked me to do the show in New York. It was awesome to finish on Broadway for my grand finale.

    STARS: Were you still in the show when it closed on Broadway?

    GB: I ended about two weeks before the closing, but I was in the last performance. They brought back most of the Billies who had done the show on Broadway to be in the finale.

    STARS: There was a special school set up to train the Billies. Did you have to go, or did they let you skip it because of your extensive ballet training and experience?

    GB: I skipped it.

    STARS: But I guess you did a lot of work on the accent.

    GB: Yes! We had an accent coach. It was amazing -- all of the creatives were English, and I came to America not really speaking English. At one point, when we were working on a scene, [associate director] Julian Webber got really frustrated with me. He said, [launches into perfect British accent], "You really have to persuade the other person." I just looked at him and smiled. He said, "Do you know what 'persuade' means?" I said, "...No!" That happened to me almost every day, that I didn't know a word he was saying. Especially with his heavy accent.

    STARS: A career in ballet is all consuming. Which of your talents do you think you'd like to focus on going forward?

    GB: I want to be recognized as a great actor, a great dancer, and a great singer. I want people to know me. When I was little, I always said, "One day, I want people to run after me in the street, like the Beatles." I still feel that way.

    SUSAN SCHULMAN: Be careful what you wish for.

    GB: That's what everyone tells me, but I want people to run after me in the street. I love that!


    [For more information about Marvell Rep and its production of Spring's Awakening, visit www.marvellrep.com]

    Published on Sunday, October 7, 2012

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
    For more articles by Michael Portantiere, click the links below!

    Previous: Hello, Gorgeous!

    Next: Gayby, It's You!

    Or go to the Archives

[Broadway Ad Network]

[Broadway Ad Network]