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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