Lauren Wagner’s parents have seen plenty of her shows.
At Yorktown High School, Wagner was Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” and the fun-loving Babe O’Day in “Good News.” This summer, she was in “Seussical” at Westchester Broadway Theatre.
But the role she plays this weekend — Wendla in the New York regional premiere of “Spring Awakening” — comes with a warning to parents, Wagner’s in particular.
This is mature stuff.
“I told them they have permission to walk out or close their eyes, whatever they have to do to get through it,” she says. “I warned them.”
The Tony-winning “Spring Awakening” gets pretty graphic.
Act 1 ends as Act 2 begins, with a moment of graphic intimacy between two teens: Wendla (Wagner) and the rebellious Melchior (Michael Valentine).
Director Jeremy Quinn didn’t flinch from the assignment: The scene was staged on the day that Wagner and Valentine met.
Valentine recalls with a nervous laugh: “I was like, ‘Nice to meet you. Now, I’m going to totally violate you.”’
“Beauty and the Beast,” it’s not.
Set in 1891 Germany, “Spring Awakening” tells the story of kids in the throes of puberty who face adults who won’t listen, and choices of live and death, to a rocking score by Duncan Sheik.
The musical launched the careers of Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff (“Glee”), and locals Jennifer Damiano (“Next to Normal,” “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark”) of White Plains and Robi Hager (“Bye Bye Birdie”) of Harrison. It ran 859 performances on Broadway, closing Jan. 18, 2009.
This weekend’s production is the first time it has been seen in the New York area since then; the regional premiere is a co-production of Harrison Summer Theater and the White Plains Performing Arts Center.
Quinn, the producing artistic director at WPPAC, says he didn’t blink before saying yes when musical director Stephen Ferri announced that he had secured the rights to the show.
Wagner, 19, is a sophomore theater major at Staten Island’s Wagner College. (Yes, Wagner goes to Wagner.)
She says playing Wendla, a girl who is awakening to her body, is a huge hurdle, after playing mostly “ditzy and Disney characters.”
“It has been an acting challenge for me, and I enjoy that, because after having a year of training at school, I feel like I know somewhat what I’m doing and I have something to put behind it.”
That doesn’t mean she’s buttoned down.
“A friend told me I got the role while I was at work (at Yorktown Stage theater camp) and I was a mess the rest of the day, crying,” she says. “I was so honored and excited.”
Valentine, 25, a Philadelphia native who is now a New York actor, says the production is a great opportunity to make his mark and to say that he was among the first to play it.
Melchior, he says, “is very forward-thinking and ahead of his time. People in the show say he doesn’t believe in a thing, but I think he decides for himself what he believes in. He’s not one of those people who sets out on a path that’s laid out for him.”
Guys want to be Melchior and girls want to be with him, Valentine says. His rebelliousness has its casualties, including Wendla and Moritz, a character played by Travis McClung.
McClung, 24, a Dallas native studying musical theater at Pace University in Manhattan, says Moritz is ”a quirky, funny, comic but tragic character.”
Moritz is overtaken by worries, failing grades and, ultimately, sadness, which drives him to a desperate act.
“He can’t help himself,” McClung says. “For him, it’s the only way out. He can’t live with sadness.”
For all of the moments of angst and sadness, there are also moments of unquenchable joy, as choreographer Lexie Frare describes in staging the song “The Word of Your Body.”
“Lauren, Michael, Jeremy and I worked on that first feeling, when you realize that you have a crush on somebody, and that first bubble that you get in your stomach and how we could physicalize that into movement.,” says Frare, who, like Tony-winner Jones, is from Valley Cottage.
What they came up with is a hand movement Frare calls “jellyfishing.”
“When you’re moving your hands like you want to hold hands but you’re not interlacing them quite yet. You’re moving your fingers to touch each other’s fingers, but you’re not interlacing them. They took that little hand movement and built it into their characters throughout the show.”
“Spring Awakening,” 8 p.m., Sept. 16, 17; 7 p.m., Sept. 18. White Plains Performing Arts Center, City Center mall, Mamaroneck Avenue at Main Street, White Plains. $25, $20 for students with ID. 914-328-1600. www.wppac.com.
Photo by Seth Harrison: Travis McClung, left, as Moritz, Michael Valentine as Melchior, and Lauren Wagner as Wendla, rehearse a scene from “Spring Awakening,” a co-production of the Harrison Summer Theater and the White Plains Performing Arts Center.