Deaf West’s Spring Awakening 

Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to check out the current revival of Spring Awakening that is running on Broadway.  Though it’s only been a few years since the original closed – this production is a welcomed addition to the current Broadway slate.

Spring Awakening is the Duncan Sheik musical that originally opened in 2008.  It is based on the German play from the late 1800’s of the same name (translated, of course).  It tells the story of school kids struggling to learn the truths and realities of coming of age, sex, sexuality, etc.  It is a beautiful and heartbreaking score – needless to say, it’s not the happiest of endings.

That being said – this new production was created and produced by Deaf West – a theater company that produces shows for the deaf and hard of hearing.  Because of this, the show employees a combination of deaf and hearing actors.  While the deaf actors sign their way through the show, they are “ghosted” by actors that are singing and speaking their lines out loud.  This conceit certainly takes a minute to get used to. It takes a couple songs or scenes to really learn who to watch, what to watch and when.  As cheesy as it may sound, in the end you certainly start to “hear” what the actors are saying through their signs while focusing on them entirely.  When action in the show prevents one from signing, then the translation is projected somewhere on the set – such as a blackboard during a classroom scene.

The show also, incredibly, features the first ever actor in a wheelchair on Broadway. How that’s never happened before – I have no idea.  Like with the signing deaf actors, the one in the wheelchair simply becomes part of the norm.  She has an incredible voice and presence on the stage.

A show about kids struggling to learn who they are as adults and sexual beings is a fascinating medium to use for Deaf West.  Here, one can assume, these great actors struggled (and probably still struggle) with their lack of hearing.  Yet, here they are at the height of an actor’s success by staring on Broadway.  They were strong enough to get through it and succeed – if only some of the characters in the show could have learned from these actors – then maybe the show wouldn’t be as tragic.

The scenic and lighting treatment very much reflect the original – basic, band on stage, etc – but used very well.  The use of projection – especially during the song “You’re Fucked” is fantastic and not overdone.

This limited engagement is certainly worth checking out!

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If/Then opened earlier this year with pretty high expectations as the first big follow-up from the team that brought us (one of my personal favorites) Next to Normal.  If/Then came to Broadway after a successful run in DC last winter.

Personally, I’ve been following this show since I first heard about it at a Tom Kitt / Brian Yorkey concert at Lincoln Center a couple years ago.  They played a few songs from the show there – which only added to the excitement.

Since opening on Broadway, I have seen If/Then twice.

At the most simple, this show is clearly a vehicle for its star Idina Menzel.  In addition to that, its sort of a dumb show about how the smallest choices can change your life for good or bad.  Idina plays Elizabeth who is back in NYC after a bad divorce in Arizona and looking to start over …. The concept fine, if not very original, but the authors must have really thought they are smarter than us, because they beat this concept over your head over and over and over again.  Literally from the first note, they never give us a chance to make any discoveries ourselves.  The show constantly reminds you that – “hey, remember, this little choice will have consequences later…”

To be blunt – act one pretty much sucks.  Mostly because the consequences of Elizabeth’s (now Liz / Beth depending on the storyline) choices have zero consequences and mean nothing.  The songs are whatever and you’re really just bored.

In act two, Tom and Brian finally took the show in the direction that made Next to Normal so successful — high drama.  These guys are the best dramatic song writers out there right now.  Just listen to Next to Normal every song is written and performed at a 10 every time.  Act one of If/Then floated around a 5 for most of it and now, finally in act two – they turned up the drama.

I won’t give any spoilers – but I truly believe act two (especially Idina’s performance in it) is worth the price of admission.  The second time I went to the show, I warned a savvy theatre going friend to just bear with act one and it’ll pay off.  At intermission he acknowledged the weakness of the first act and I really was hoping he’ll see what I did in act two — and he did.

Idina’s eleven-o-clock number (see her Tony performance) is one of the best songs I have seen on stage in a very long time.  Based on the quality and diversity of the songs in the second act I really wonder if the guys wrote that first and then felt that they needed to quickly come up with a first act before they would have a show?

I don’t know how much longer Idina will be in the show and have a feeling it’ll close pretty quickly after she leaves … so if you have a chance check it out now.

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1st New Review – Motown the Musical

Last night AKM and I had a chance to see Motown the Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre – which has been open since April 2013 and closing in January 2015.

Honestly, Motown was not really on my list of shows to see.  When you live in New York, you really have to pick and choose which shows you’ll see – otherwise, you’ll go broke.  I had an opportunity, though, to get free tickets using some of my Audience Rewards points (as well as two other shows you’ll see here later in the month).  I mention this, only because I do think sometimes ones enjoyment of a show is directly tied to how much was spent on it.  I think people like crappy shows (which this is not) more simply because they spent $150 on it and thus feel that it must be good because they spent so much money….

I digress.

Overall Motown was a very fun night at the theatre.  It, naturally, reminded me of favorite shows such as Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Jersey Boys – though they have nothing in common except for using a preexisting catelogue of music.  Though the guy in front of us was trying to convince his date that this was exactly like Jersey Boys – having seen both – it’s not – by a long shot.

Motown tells the story of founder Berry Gordy’s rise and sort-of fall over a nearly 30+ year span.  I had read some other reviews that found the story muddled and hard to follow – though not the greatest book – I had no problem keeping up and even investing in some of the emotion of the story.

Naturally, the music is spectacular – they touch on nearly 50 classic Motown songs (plus a few shaky originals for the show).  The massive cast (including two awesome FSU grads) worked their tail off and really helped carry the show forward.

The only thing that put me off – and not necessarily in a bad way – just odd – was how real each person was portrayed.  Smokey, Stevie, Diana, kid Michael, etc  looked exactly like they do (did) in real life.  It’s uncanny.  The issue was that early in the show this took some getting used too – the beginning is a bit choppy and when a quick book scene is followed by a concert performance you can’t help but feel you’re moving suddenly in a Vegas showroom watching a (high quality) revue.  The cast, though, did a great job moving between these numbers and quickly back into the story – or sometimes using the songs to move the story.

There were a couple of occasions where they tried to break the fourth wall during the performance and get the audience to participate – not sure if it was just our crowd or not – but it certainly took some work from the actors to get us involved.  I think this is simply because in all of the other “concert” performances they weren’t necessary performing to us – we were just watching, as if in a documentary.  So, when suddenly they are performing to this house – it takes a minute for the crowd to realize it – but also leaves a, “why now?” question.

Overall – very fun and I’d recommend – certainly enjoyed it much more than I expected … (or was that because it was free?)……

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I’m Back! — Again …

It’s been two years since I last posted here … I love the idea of this blog, but felt I never had the time to spend on it … now I have a bit more time on my hands (or at least will make some) and I hope I can keep up with it this time…

So many things have changed since last time … I’m getting married … I moved to lower Manhattan … I’m older… so exciting.

You might notice there’s a new page for Theatre Reviews — I’m going to be posting there more too – as well as keeping up with the bars!

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More English Classes for FSU Football Players?

So, bad news for FSU today as CB Greg Reid was kicked off the team for “violating team rules”.  In my mind, this guy probably fucked up enough that it was time to go and I like Jimbo putting his foot down.  He is clearly telling his team that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.

Anyway, since he banned Twitter a few weeks ago, his players cannot express their frustration on Twitter, which, of course, is the natural place to go.  So, instead they have to do it the old fashion was, on Facebook …

No Twitter? Noles talk Reid on Facebook – FSU Seminoles Blog – ESPN.

Their reactions are what you’d expect … but I guess I’m a bit out of touch … do college students really still “talk” this way:

“I kno Wat it feel like to feel alone n have backs turned on ya,” Wilder wrote on Facebook. “(Reid,) everybody kno u did a lot for the university n team…u played a big role in my college career.” 

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Thoughts on Penn State

Ever since the Sandusky scandal broke last November, I have been up and down on my opinions as to how Penn State should handle this crisis. Initially, I did not agree with Penn State firing Joe Paterno, their legendary coach. At the time, to me, it appeared to be a reactionary move to satisfy the press and angry public. Over the history of time, plenty of people have lost their jobs over scandals they knew nothing about. Much like the rest of the Penn State community, I had a hard time believing Paterno knew anything about it.

Clearly I was wrong.

With the release of the Freeh Report a week or so ago – the ugly truth became increasingly clear. According to the Freeh report (which former President Spanier strongly disputes) it is presumed that Paterno knew Sandusky was a potential child molester as early as 1998.

Now, I don’t want to go into the details of the report, but I did want to comment on the reactions and the NCAA punishments……

Let’s start with the removal of the Paterno statue outside of the stadium, yet keeping his name on the library. I think this was the right move. This scandal is tied to football as much as anything. Paterno allegedly knew too much and did too little and because of this, innocent boys had their lives ruined. I also think this was an easy move for the administration since he is dead – if he were still alive, I would speculate that that statue would still be there. I also think it is okay to keep his name on the library – he performed 30+ years of great service to the university leading up to 1998 – he should not be forgotten. I only draw this line because in my opinion, by 1998 Paterno did not know left from right. He was a million years old and health rapidly declining. People were already calling for him to step down, but he didn’t.

I hate this argument, because it sounds like I’m making an excuse for his behavior – I AM NOT. I am just speculating he was not in the right mind and possibly very confused. I think we should let some dust settle before deciding on the library (that he paid for).

As for the NCAA:

First, do they have the authority?

Sure, every university basically hands over all rights and powers to the NCAA. Personally, I think it is a very flawed establishment that should be very closely looked at (see this Atlantic article).

Was the punishment right?

Sure, I guess. The Freeh report basically concluded that the football program had too much power and controlled the university. They claim it got to the point that even a child molester could continue to bait their prey all in the name of protecting the football program.

I know a lot about football culture – I was a theatre major at a football school (Florida State University). I can go on for days about our stripped budgets, while watching football money flood in). Football, though, should not run a university. I understand that it is a major funding source (especially for schools like FSU and PSU), but it has to be monitored. Our trustees at FSU did what the trustees at Penn St could never do, we got a coach who was well past their prime to retire. Was it pretty? No. Was it necessary? Yes.

This very thing, to me, confirms some of the Freeh conclusions. If the board cannot get rid of the coach (until a horrible sex scandal), the what power do they have?

All people involved directly in this scandal are now gone, but the NCAA feels the football culture that caused this to happen is still there. So, they did what they could. They fined them, took away wins, took away bowls and scholarships. Sure, that’s fine under their purview. I think, though, instead of punishing the kids that just want to play football, some of who never met Paterno, the NCAA should have fired all of the PSU administration. I don’t think they have that power, but would have been nice. I think the whole board should be gone. They are the ones that empowered Paterno and the football program. They are the ones that were so weak they were kept in the dark about everything. Their job is to protect the university, it’s alumni, students, faculty and staff — and they failed.

It has come out recently that the NCAA was considering the famous death penalty. Frankly, I think this would have been a better option and would not have punished innocent people as much … Maybe. To agree with this, I have to assume that most PSU players could get picked up on other teams and their recruits could go elsewhere.

With the actual NCAA penalties, it’s more like they got shot in the leg and are forced to limp along. Deserving athletes now have to pick between their school and career – if the death penalty was imposed, the decision would be clear. It is not fair for a student athlete who had absolutely nothing to do with the case get penalized for the actions of a few in the past – no matter how sever.

(PS – this logic applies to 90% of NCAA punishments)

So, in closing – yes, PSU as an institution should suffer. But the athletes who just want to play football should not.

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Colorado Shooting

Sometimes Aaron Sorkin says it best … it’s amazing how sometimes West Wing reflects real life…

This is from one of my favorite episodes, the opening of season 4 – “20 Hours in America”.  It speaks for itself:

More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. 44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition. When, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran *in* to the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

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