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New awakening spurs 2nd Grammy bid for Sheik

Duncan Sheik
Duncan Sheik
Jeremy Cowart

Duncan Sheik received his second Grammy Award nomination. But unlike the first nomination back in 1998 for best male pop vocal performance for his Top 40 hit "Barely Breathing," the new Grammy nomination is for his work on a little Broadway musical called "Spring Awakening."

Sheik and writing partner Steve Sater were nominated for best musical show album and are competing with new recordings of "A Chorus Line" and "West Side Story." Other nominees include "Company" and "Grey Gardens."

In addition to the Grammy nominations, Sheik won two Tony Awards, best orchestration and best original score, for the musical last year.

So, how did a singer/songwriter become caught up in musical theater?

"Opportunity," Sheik said during a phone call from his pad in New York City. "I have been working with Steve since early 1999."

Both enjoyed the original and controversial German expressionist play "Spring Awakening" by Frank Wedekind. And they felt it would make a good musical.

"I liked the strangeness of the play," said Sheik. "It was eccentric and dark and extremely racy. It also has that built-in adolescent, teenage angst that is always good for a musical."

The story is about a young girl coming of age in a repressive household, and the ramifications that are suffered by her boyfriend in the aftermath of an accidental pregnancy and death.

"In the course of the past seven years, Steve and I have felt all the emotions mankind could feel," said Sheik. "We felt the confidence that it would work and we felt the despair that it would not see the light of day."

The musical opened off-Broadway in May 2006 but premiered on Broadway seven months later.

"Writing songs for the musical was not that much different than writing songs for an album," said Sheik, who met Sater and Sater's wife through his involvement in Buddhism. "I made a conscious effort to write songs that appealed to a rock audience."

Sheik cut his teeth on English prog-rock of Yes, King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer in her early days. He then moved on to bands like Talk Talk, Japan and the Cure. He rediscovered the Who and did his own singing and songwriting.

When his song "Barely Breathing" hit the charts, it was a blessing and a curse.

"It was great that people liked the song and made it popular," said Sheik. "But after that song left the charts, people expected me to write similar-sounding songs. And I wanted to do something different."

So in the years that followed, Sheik honed in on what he wanted to write, rather than what he was expected to write.

"That did weed out some people in my fan base," he said. "But it was good for me. I went through the desert, so to speak, and found what I really wanted to do.

"I will still write songs and record albums," he said. "But with the success of 'Spring Awakening,' there have been other opportunities opened to me. And it's just figuring out which ones I need to pursue."

If you go . . .

What: Duncan Sheik

Where: Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $18-$65

Phone: 435-655-3114