East West Players is presenting the Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening” at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo.
Directed by former EWP Artistic Director Tim Dang, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the play is set in 1891 Germany, where repressed, adolescent students stumble into adulthood as clumsily as they do into each other’s arms. With obstinate parents unwilling to guide them, young Melchior (Thomas K. Winter) and Wendla (Mia Sempertegui) explore their desires for each other, while Melchior’s dear friend Moritz (Marcus Phillips) fumbles dangerously through his own coming-of-age.
The multicultural cast includes Tamlyn Tomita as the adult women, including Frau Bergmann and Fanny Gabor, the mothers of Wendla and Melchior, respectively, and her husband Daniel Blinkoff as the adult men.
Following is Tomita’s interview with The Rafu’s J.K. Yamamoto.
Rafu: This is your EWP mainstage debut, but have you worked with EWP in other capacities over the years?
Tomita: I’ve been supporting, attending, helping, doing anything I am asked to do with East West Players since the mid-1980s. I was introduced to EWP through Dr. Bob Nakamura (the godfather of Asian American media) through his class at UCLA, “Asian American Film/Media,” and he strongly advised that our class attend a play at East West Players, the nation’s longest-running Asian American theater company right here in Los Angeles.
I had no idea that there was such a place; and my father was born and raised and grew up in L.A. When I went to my first play at the old space on Santa Monica Boulevard, I was blown away. To be able to see actors who we would see on film and television, telling stories, just a few feet away in a darkened theater and who looked like me was amazing. Not stock, supporting, or background characters, but fleshed-out, flawed, fabulous, and fully human characters breathing and doing their best to “live life” right in front of me.
Rafu: What other musicals have you done?
Tomita: Besides singing in Easter and Christmas programs at San Fernando Holiness Church, and summer school musicals in elementary schools, not a one.
Rafu: Is this your first time performing with Daniel in a play? Have you worked together in TV or film?
Tomita: Daniel and I have only had the pleasure of working on stage together. We met and first worked together on Chay Yew’s “A Distant Shore” for the inaugural season of the Center Theater Group/Kirk Douglas Theater in 2005, directed by Robert Egan, which also starred Emily Kuroda and Nelson Mashita.
I also had the joyous and wonderful experience of playing Mrs. Cratchit in South Coast Repertory’s “A Christmas Carol” alongside Daniel’s “Bob Cratchit” in his 17th year of doing so in 2021. For those who know that show, “Wassail!”
Rafu: Please describe your characters in “Spring Awakening.” How do the adult characters interact with the younger ones?
Tomita: For those who do not know of “Spring Awakening,” it is an intense, powerful, and passionate story set in 1890s Germany, focusing on the youth and the challenges they face growing up into adulthood. Daniel and I play the roles of “Adult Men” and “Adult Women,” who represent and present the social and family dynamics of the day.
Our roles literally embody the rules and ways of proper behavior, and provide the structures that the adolescents try to live and grow in. And, in order to grow, one must break free. Especially when one is not allowed to fully stretch and open him/herself to all they can be.
Rafu: Do you find the themes of “Spring Awakening” relatable and relevant?
Tomita: Absolutely. The themes of repression and oppression through religion, the treatment of women and girls, and the educational system of 1890s Germany are still being discussed in 2023 America — women’s rights to their own bodies, LGBTQ discrimination, book-banning and what, why, and how we teach children — it’s all here in this musical — and teen angst breaks out in order to be heard and seen.
Change happens. It needs to. And it usually happens slowly, sometimes excruciatingly so. The transitory period between childhood and adulthood is a particularly fraught time, which is rarely ever discussed.
Not being a parent, I know I’m not one to pass advice on parenting, but I do try to share one piece of knowledge: people (kids sometimes forget parents are people, too) don’t know/have all the answers, and that’s okay. As long as we try to be open and find an answer that will make us all healthy and happy together, we’ll be okay, and hopefully, better.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention that there are production, content, and trigger warnings concerning the show (see details below).
Rafu: Are you working with most of the cast members for the first time?
Tomita: Every single cast member is new, fresh, and blindingly bright in their talent, compassion, and bravado. It has been a true and immense pleasure to be working with them, and for the majority of them, their first professional job! Folks probably think that the younger perfomers are learning a lot from us older ones, but I can assure you, we’ve been learning a lot from them as well!
Rafu: In real life, are you and Daniel mentors to the younger cast members?
Tomita: We’d like to think we are! Not only during the run of the show, but for the duration of all our careers. I do believe that the audience will be seeing the next new constellation of stars!
Rafu: What other stage and screen projects do you have coming up?
Tomita: Well, with the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes continuing, I am not at liberty to say. I can only keep picketing and supporting our SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee to continue fighting for not only our union members, but for everyone involved in this industry.
Rafu: Any comments about the strike?
Tomita: I am very proud to be a part of this union, especially with Jodi Long serving as our SAG-AFTRA L.A. Chapter president as well as venerable Clyde Kusatsu, and who both have performed on the East West Players stages. This a fight we must persevere at as there are many issues that have not been dealt fairly with, and the newer issues of AI that are threatening what it means to be creatives, storytellers, actors.
Note: As The Rafu went to press on Wednesday, it was announced that the strike was ending.
Rafu: Have you visited Hawaii to help with disaster relief fundraising?
Tomita: I have not yet visited Hawaii since the Maui fires, but have donated monies and tried to bring attention to our ohana in Maui, as so many have. Both of us are particularly proud in supporting David Ono’s “Defining Courage — Aloha Edition” presentation for Maui relief (held Sept. 9 at El Camino College) and hope that attention to our 50th state will continue with all the voices being heard as how to best help Maui thrive.
Rafu: In “Cobra Kai,” you and Yuji Okumoto reprised your roles as Kumiko and Chozen from “The Karate Kid Part II” (1986) when Daniel (Ralph Macchio) visited Okinawa, and Chozen later came to San Fernando Valley to help Daniel and Johnny (William Zabka). Any chance that Kumiko will also come to the Valley?
Tomita: Hope should always live. Even if it should never come to fruition.
Rafu: As a veteran of Stargate, Star Trek (Tomita played Commodore Oh in Season 1 of “Star Trek: Picard) and other sci-fi franchises, do you ever participate in Comic Con and other cons?
Tomita: No…I think I’m still too hazukashii.
Note: The Adult Women and Adult Men will be played by understudies from Friday, Nov. 10, to Monday, Nov. 13.
Originally scheduled to close Nov. 19, “Spring Awakening” has been extended until Dec. 3. The David Henry Hwang Theater is located at Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Little Tokyo.
Performance times: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8 p.m., with additional 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and 5 p.m. performances on Sunday. Ticket prices range from $39 to $69. An ASL-interpreted performance is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000. Student, senior, and group discounts are available. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as one hour before all performances.
Content and trigger warning: The show contains mentions of abortion, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as depictions of suicide, partial nudity and sexual content. For any questions on the content of the production, email firstname.lastname@example.org.