BY ROBERT DIGITALE

Three things grabbed my attention about the upcoming North Bay premiere of “Spring Awakening:” the play’s eight Tony Awards; the parental advisory on the production’s website; and the fervent comments by young cast members that this is a play that parents and teens need to see.

The musical opens Friday Jan. 20 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. It runs for two weekends, ending Jan. 29.

Scott van der Horst, who put on last year’s magical, youth production of “Les Miserables,” is the director, with Benjamin Mertz as musical director.

The cast is comprised of more than two dozen young people, ages 14 to 23, from schools around the North Bay.

The play, which in 2007 won the Tony for best musical, follows the tortured inner lives of a group of 19th-century German adolescents. The New York Times said it features “a ravishing rock score” by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik.

Van der Horst is quick to note the heavy issues tackled by the play: teen pregnancy, homosexuality, masturbation, child abuse and teen suicide.

That list helps explain the website’s parental advisory: “There is language and physical movement represented within this show that is explicitly sexual in nature and may not be suitable for younger audiences.”

On Thursday night, van der Horst was kind enough to stop rehearsal so the cast members could tell me why this musical matters to them.

Repeatedly they said today’s teenagers confront these issues. And while it may not be easy, adults and youth need to talk about them.

Pat Gornet, a senior from Sonoma Academy, said when he first saw the show, “it scared me because … a lot of the issues ring too true.”

The young people acknowledged that they live in a time when there is more opportunity in school and elsewhere to discuss these subjects.

The musical “couldn’t have been put on 50 years ago,” said Jake Brinskele, a senior at Sonoma Academy.

Even so, they said, too many teens struggle with suicide and depression, and parents too often are quick to deny that their children could face such problems. Some said the show gives youth permission to bring up the subjects with their parents.

“I think it shows how far we’ve come,” said Samantha Harper, a 19-year-old student at Sonoma State University, “and how far we’ve yet to come.”

Show times are 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 27 and 28 and 2 p.m. Jan. 22 and 29. All seats are $22.

To purchase tickets, click here.

To read more about the production, click here.