Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moritz Stiefel's Hair: 'Mind-Blowing' Theories about the Bumbling "Spring Awakening" Supporting Character

Ever since I wrote about the Studio Players production of Spring Awakening for Baristanet, I've been on a Spring Awakening kick since its preview show. 

The more I thought about this musical, the more the character design of supporting character Moritz Stiefel came to mind.

Seriously, what is up with his hair?

I've always wondered this. For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, here is the original design of Moritz Stiefel, as played by John Gallagher, Jr. in the Broadway version:

John Gallagher, Jr. as "Moritz Stiefel" performing at the 2007 Tony Awards

Okay, now that you've seen it, let's talk about it. His hair definitely stands out. It stands out so much that when I first saw the Studio Players production and all of the guys first came out during the "Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)", I immediately was able to pinpoint which cast member was playing Moritz based on his hair alone. He didn't have to do anything, he didn't have to say anything. All he had to do was walk out with his hair sticking up and flipped over and I was all like, "That's Moritz."

Here is the Studio Players version of Moritz Stiefel, as played by Montclair State University musical theater major Chris Newhouse:

Photo Credit: Claudia Budris
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=785384631493916&set=pb.103139329718453.-2207520000.1402362290.&type=3&theater


What's funny is it took me a little while to realize which actor was playing the lead character, resident radical Melchior Gabor. I didn't have this issue with Moritz by any means.

This tells me that the hairstyle for Moritz is so intentional that every actor who plays him has to make his hair look this way. I'm actually sensing that Newhouse grew and styled his hair out purposely for the role. If you look at the original costume sketches for the character from the book I have, you'll notice that his hair is the same there as well:


In fact, it is so iconic that it even HAS ITS OWN GOOGLE SEARCH RESULT.


So the question is: why?

Well, here is what I gathered. Based on his hair and what I've seen of him, Moritz Stiefel is Melchior Gabor's goofy best friend and school class clown who is loved by everyone and just loves life and is always laughing and happy. He is a total rock star!

Right? Isn't that what you get from it too?

Too bad we're all WRONG.

The character of Moritz Stiefel is anything BUT what I just described. The poor kid is a nervous wreck constantly struggling in school, totally traumatized by the wet dreams he keeps having, and everyone (minus a few characters) actually seem to find him so worthless for some reason. This all sends him descending into madness and he contemplates suicide.

I just want to hug him and tell him that everything is going to be okay! I feel so bad for the kid!

I was in shock when I first found this out through my reading and watching of the musical. His design totally made me think the complete opposite of how he actually is. Maybe that's what the designer wanted? For us to expect something totally different only to give us a twist?

Anyway, his goofy hair makes sense in the musical as well. Moritz Stiefel is actually the foil to Melchior Gabor. Melchior is the school's star pupil, Moritz is the school's "failure." The girls want Melchior, the girls despise Moritz. It's as if Moritz is purposely designed to look the way he does to serve as a juxtaposition to Melchior or to initiate sympathy from the audience.

Well, it's working!

However, Moritz is actually a cooler character than Melchior for reasons other than his hair, though his hair may have something to do with it. When Melchior enters the song world of the musical, which is the children's subconscious, his personality doesn't change from his ranting about questioning authority in the real world. He's just basically singing the thoughts he has already been stating in monologues. Moritz, however, does a whole 180 upon entering the song world. In real life he is a timid, albeit gawky teenager, but in song world he turns into a great performer and his expressions are totally aggressive and badass and obviously a lot more than what meets the eye. His angst is real and it seems as though his hair matches this aspect of his character a lot better.

Anyway, in addition to his hair, I began to think more about the character of Moritz Stiefel himself after seeing the musical live for the first time. Perhaps his hair is to emphasize how complex he really is. They want us to remember him because of what he (and his hair) offers the musical's plot and symbolism. This could explain why he receives more cheers than Melchior. (This is what happened at that Tony performance.)

Here are some theories I have about him. (Warning: There may be some spoilers ahead.)

Moritz Stiefel is Gay

Tell me. What straight guy would be terrified of women's body parts?

There are actually gay male characters in Spring Awakening, so it wouldn't be as far-fetched to have Moritz among them. However, these guys are way more comfortable with their newfound sexual identities than Moritz is by a long shot. One of them, Hanschen, actually masturbates to a picture of a woman (Corpeggio's Io), which leads me to believe that he may not actually be gay but rather be bisexual instead. Either that or he's just experimenting and doesn't really have a preference yet.

How is it that a gay guy like Hanschen is more comfortable with thinking about women sexually to the point where he pleasures himself to a picture of one than a supposed straight guy like Moritz is? In fact, in this musical's 19th century German society you would figure that homosexuality would totally be condemned considering how repressed they all are sexually to begin with. But yet, Hanschen comes across pretty open about it in his scene with love interest Ernst. It's almost as if homosexuality is considered the norm and Moritz is afraid of coming out as straight.

But then again, if Moritz is indeed gay, why would he be fantasizing or dreaming about women's body parts at all in the first place?

Don't Let Him Fool You. Moritz Stiefel Actually Enjoys the Sexual Thoughts He Claims to Fear

That last theory began to disprove itself with this one. If Moritz was really gay or bothered by his "sticky dreams" in general, you'd figure he'd act like this instead:


Stewie Griffin from "Family Guy" reacts this way, though very too over dramatic and unrealistic, because, well, he is a toddler. Also, he is gay, so he wouldn't be attracted to female parts but may want to avoid them instead.

The thing is, Moritz doesn't react like this. Sure when he first brings his dreams up to Melchior he considers them nightmarish, but then when they talk about them more he says:
MORITZ ("The horror!"): Melchi, why - why - am I haunted by the legs of a woman? By the deepening conviction: some dark part of my destiny may lie there between them? ... (1.2. p. 26)
First of all, these kids don't talk like any teenagers I know.

Second, how is it that if out of all of these kids, Melchior is the only one educating himself about sex, but Moritz somehow understands that his "destiny" may lie between a woman's legs? How would he even fathom that if he was totally innocent to all of this information and doesn't even know what a vagina is at this point? How could he even make such a statement if nothing about this makes sense to him? Do men just have a natural pull to women's crotches even if they don't understand why?

Don't answer that. You know what I mean!

When Melchior offers to impart his sexual knowledge onto his friend, Moritz asks him to write an essay instead and EVEN ASKS FOR ILLUSTRATIONS. Not only does he ask for some illustrations, he practically tells Melchior to completely cover the margins with them:
MORITZ: No no - not here! I can't talk it! No - do me a favor: write it down. All of it. Conceal it in my satchel - after Gymnastics - tomorrow.
(A beat.)
If you like, you could add illustrations to the margins.
(A beat.)
MELCHIOR: Top to bottom?
MORITZ: Everything.  (1.2. p. 27)
From what I recall, he says these lines regarding illustrations with a smile. This is one of the few times throughout the musical when he actually does look happy.

If images of women are so terrifying for him, you would think that Moritz would want to stay completely away from them at all costs, like Stewie seemingly would after that magazine incident. Yet he just keeps asking for more, with a smile no less. What's interesting too is that here in the script a "beat" is used more than once. In play scripts, "beats" refer to a change of pace or topic. The beats here could suggest how Moritz is slowly opening up to learning more about sex in a comfortable manner, i.e. a slight change in his character.

Later on we see an exhausted Moritz again with Melchior, this time "plagued by labia majora" and "mesmerized by penis and vagina" because he has been intensively studying Mechior's essay all throughout the night until he "couldn't see straight." He proceeds to question Melchior about what he has written because he is so fascinated and baffled by the information, particularly what sex is like for a woman ("Touch Me"). (Side note: "Touch Me" is a beautiful song about lovemaking and intimacy.)

This kid isn't gay! He also isn't horrified either!

Mortitz Stiefel likes his sexual thoughts. The reason why he is so scared is because he doesn't understand WHY he likes them so much. This is something new to him and he thinks something is wrong with him when in reality he is having completely normal experiences for a male teenager enduring puberty. I'm sure sexy thoughts distract teenage boys from schoolwork quite often and from what I gather puberty for boys is already a horrible time period anyway. He is just so much in the dark about it because the parents in this society don't prepare their kids for adolescence and adulthood, which makes it worse for him. Melchior dodged this because he is lucky enough to be a research buff and have non-overbearing open-minded parents (until things go too far, of course).

However, it seems to me though that Moritz is the only one out of the boys who is truly panicking about it all. The other guys seem to respond to their sexuality pretty naturally.

It's actually when Moritz faces his struggle with sexual tension and fails at the sexual exploration opportunity presented to him that is he undoing, believe it or not. Already considering suicide, he runs into his childhood friend Ilse. It is suggested that they like each other. Moritz looks visibly awkward and uncomfortable while in close encounters with a woman, fixing his outfit during her "Blue Wind" solo when she isn't looking, whereas Ilse invites him over to play like they did as kids but you can kind of gather that she is inviting him over for something a little more grown up. Moritz is afraid to act on his feelings and eventually rejects Ilse, making up excuses. He immediately regrets this decision when Ilse leaves in a huff and is disappointed in himself. This is when he finally performs an unspeakable act. It turns out that the true clincher of his doom is not just his school failures, but his sexual failures as well, therefore making him feel completely inadequate. Perhaps he even feels emasculated by everything. Every aspect of his character goes downhill for him and he accomplishes nothing. His entrance into manhood finishes just as quickly as it started.

Ironically, he comes across very peaceful, though still pained, at this point in the scene.

This All Being Said, is Melchior Gabor the Star Pupil because the Rest of the Kids are Illiterate?

It's not like the kids are absolutely incapable of reading, however, because Moritz does read Melchior's essay and the boys do read for school. But if Melchior taught himself about sex from reading about it, why couldn't the rest of the kids do the same thing? Granted, not all kids are bookworms and some kids read more than others, so this normality might be all that is needed to explain this.

But then this takes us to yet another layer of Moritz's character. Maybe this is why Moritz asks for the illustrations. Perhaps he doesn't ask for them because he WANTS visuals, but asks for them because he NEEDS them. Maybe he has a reading and learning disability, something that maybe wasn't really a thing back in 19th century Germany to really diagnose him, and so therefore he isn't properly taught to suit his needs and is just considered a moron.

Also, the girls don't go to school, but we do see leading lady Wendla Bergman reading some of Melchior's journal. But she doesn't actually read it apparently:
WENDLA: You left it. The other day. I confess, I tried reading part of it - (1.11. p. 57) 
Now we can take this theory a step even FURTHER...

What if Moritz Joined Ilse at the Artists' Colony?

I blew my own mind with this one.

Let's just rewind for a moment and look at all of the school subjects Moritz struggles with throughout the story. In his opening scene he makes a mistake in Latin, then there is mention of Homer (literature), and quadratic equations (math). All of these at which Melchior apparently excels, among other things. (Added June 28, 2014:) In his opening song "All That's Known", Melchior himself acknowledges that all the authority in this town care and know about is history and science and even what is written, especially in the Bible. Keep this in mind as well. (End addition.)

Now let's go back to the scene with Ilse. She asks Moritz how school is going and he says:
MORITZ: Well, this semester I'm through. (2.2. p. 67)
But then after awhile when Ilse invites him over the excuse he gives for not going is homework:
MORITZ (A lie): Eighty lines of Virgil, sixteen equations, a paper on the Hapsburgs. (2.2. p. 69)
I recently realized that this is a continuity error on Moritz's part. If he is done with school for the semester, then having homework like this is clearly a lie that Ilse would catch onto because of what he told her two pages earlier.

Considering his current circumstances, he has absolutely NO obligation to go back home. Like he said, he is finished with the semester, the authorities aren't letting him move onto the next level of schooling, his father is ashamed of him, Melchior's mother won't give him money to go to America, etc. It's no wonder that he plans on suicide since it feels like his whole world has turned against him.

However, he is approached with an escape in the form of Ilse. Now the question is, if he left to live with her and never returned, would he actually fit in at the Artists' colony, or would he have a hard time in that department as well?

Back in school he struggles with numerous subjects, so that leaves art as the only subject we do not really see him attempt or even talk about. He has to be good at something, so this all suggests one thing: Moritz is an artist.

...WAIT A MINUTE. WHICH EXPLAINS WHY HE WANTS THE ILLUSTRATIONS! ART IS HIS THING!

MIND! BLOWN!

It all makes sense now! Moritz's strength is in the arts! He is a visual learner and perhaps art is the only thing he understands! It's plausible for artists to not be as good at other school subjects. Maybe he is a gifted drawer but just never gets a chance to explore his artistry and creativity because of his structured entrapment, which actually could be very relevant for the artists of today as well. It also could be a good explanation as to why Moritz even wants to flee to America. His motives are never really fully explained but immigrating to America for new opportunities to look into his craftsmanship totally makes sense.

Melchior claims to be the free thinker out of everyone, but because everyone considers him the star pupil excelling at the subjects they feel are necessary, Melchior actually fits into their cookie cutter conformist mold way more than Moritz does, given that Moritz makes the most mistakes out of everyone and sleeps in class. This explains why authority doesn't like him, making Moritz the true radical of Spring Awakening, not Melchior. Melchior challenges the status quo, the status quo into which he seems to fit directly, on purpose whereas Moritz challenges the status quo without even realizing it. He is just being himself.

It also clarifies why Moritz's personality changes during the musical numbers when in comparison to the other kids, especially Melchior. Moritz's song world rock star persona is his subconscious showing the audience his inner eagerness to express himself in this way aching to break through. Even though the other kids do indeed show their own subconscious angst in song world, since they aren't really artists but fit the town's mold a bit better instead, they don't have this distinct split personality as much between the two worlds.

This brings us full circle back to Moritz's hair. From what I've seen, it is artists who tend to have crazy hairstyles and hair itself can be considered an art form. Melchior blends in with the rest of the townsmen style wise whereas Moritz's standing out design suggests that he just simply does not belong there in their structured education system and lifestyle. Like some artists possibly are, he too is shunned from society, especially a society that wouldn't appreciate art.

So where else could he belong? He belongs in the Artists' colony instead. Ilse describes the colony's inhabitants as "Bohemians," which is a terrific term to define Moritz.

He realizes this too, a second too late.
(ILSE goes. MORITZ winces.)
MORITZ: For the love of God, all I had to do was say yes. (Calls after her) Ilse? Ilse...?
(He waits. If only he could run after her...But now, she's gone.) (2.2. p. 70)
At this moment he realizes that not only did he miss his chance to explore his sexuality, he missed the chance to explore his artistry. His earlier interaction with Ilse suggests as such:
ILSE: Moritz Stiefel! 
MORITZ (Frantically hiding the gun): Ilse?! You frightened me! 
ILSE: Did you lose something? 
MORITZ: Why did you frighten me? 
(A beat.) 
Damn it! 
ILSE: What're you looking for? 
MORITZ: If only I knew. 
ILSE: Then what's the use of looking? 
(A beat.) (2.2. p. 66-67)
You, Ilse. He's looking for you. He's desperately looking for an escape and you showed up right on cue.

In this interaction there is no indication that Moritz is looking for something, so Ilse asking that question is a little strange. However, it makes perfect sense symbolically. What he lost is his will to live and Ilse is that new will. Ilse is the angel sent to save him right at this moment and is perhaps the same angel foreshadowed about in his opening scene when he laments in "The Bitch of Living" about a sexy angel visiting him in his dreams. (But then again, we can always say too that the sexy dream angel is just a metaphor of his temptation to masturbate, which is pretty much what it is.)

What Moritz did was not take this salvation when he had the chance. (Added June 28, 2014:) Even Ilse's final line to him indicates this:
ILSE: You know, by the time you finally wake up, I'll be lying on some trash heap. (2.2. p. 70)
I didn't really understand this line much at first. Wake up to what really? The possibility of having sex with her? This is what first crossed my mind but then in this context, waking up to a new LIFE with her, it makes sense as well. (End addition.)

Actually, keep this angel metaphor in mind real quick for a final argument. Now that I think about it, throughout the musical Moritz makes a lot of references to angels, God, Christ, and...Heaven. Religion, church, especially Christianity and Catholicism from my reading of it, is a huge theme in Spring Awakening, but it might mean more to where Moritz is concerned.

Moritz Stiefel and His Spirituality

All in all, Chris Newhouse's portrayal of Moritz Stiefel made the character my favorite, especially during the part when he is so relieved to have passed his midterm and tells Melchior the good news in the most adorable way:
MORITZ: I had to, Melchi. I just had to. The good news is: I passed!
HANSCHEN: The middle-terms, that is.
MORITZ: Yes. Everything will now be determined by the final exams. Still, I know I passed. Truly, Heaven must feel like this.
(MELCHIOR embraces MORITZ.) (1.6. p. 41)
Any of Moritz's breakthroughs into manhood is a connection to his spirituality. His sexy dream angel and Ilse are his angels sent to help him with his sexuality, and in Ilse's case, artistry as well. He references Heaven upon finding out that he has passed his midterms, thus giving him brief confidence. This confidence in himself intellectually could have flourished him into a strong man and his sexual developments could have followed suit. This is (or would have been) his new beginning, which is what most Christians and other religious might consider entrance into Heaven.

At the end, however, he resolves to be an angel himself instead, sent as a guidance for Melchior in a certain light.

(And now I am just going to end this by gushing about him...

He describes his relief of passing a test as HEAVEN! What kid does that or feels this way for that matter? That is the sweetest line in the whole musical to me and it's so heartbreaking to know what transpires thereafter! Even though he may not be a good student, he's not a slacker. He still cares, perhaps much more than an average student would, and has a true sincerity about him.

Aww! Be still my heart! The feels! I can't even.)

Works Cited: Sater, Steven and Duncan Sheik. Spring Awakening: A New Musical. Theater Communications Group, Inc., 2007. Print.

7 comments:

  1. I kind of love everything about this post. SO MANY AWESOME THEORIES.

    I love Spring Awakening and all of its lovely characters, but poor spazzy Moritz Stiefel wins all of my hugs. We have like, ALL of the same issues.

    I would have loved to see Spring Awakening on Broadway, because sweet mother of god, that MUSIC. I'm grateful for Youtube, but it can't compare at all.

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    1. "I kind of love everything about this post. SO MANY AWESOME THEORIES."

      Thank you so much, Jamie!!! I am thrilled that you love it. I love this comment! It warms my heart to see that people appreciate my work. :D

      Yes, Moritz does deserve our hugs, doesn't he? ;)

      I was interested in seeing it on Broadway too, but it didn't come to pass. lol

      Thanks for visiting! :D

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    2. Hey Jamie! "Spring Awakening" is back on Broadway! You have another chance! :D

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  2. I heard about it on Facebook! And I STILL don't have another chance because I'm in California! :(

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  3. Ah, this is an old post but anyway. I don't remember where I heard it (it could've been from an interview with JGJ or maybe Duncan Sheik, I don't know) but I'm pretty sure it's actually been said by someone involved in the original SA cast that Moritz's hair is supposed to represent the inner turmoil going on inside his head, which is why it's messy to begin with (since he's a nervous wreck) and then his hair gets even bigger and crazier in Act II when his thoughts become completely irrational and overtake him.

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    1. Hi K!

      I'm just seeing this now! No matter that it's an old post! I'm glad you commented! :) That's cool information! It somewhat matches my analysis. Thanks for sharing! :D

      -Stef :)

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