The 2007 Tony Award winning musical "Spring Awakening" is back on Broadway. The show returns to The Main Stem courtesy of the LA-based Deaf West Theatre company. NY1’s Roma Torre filed the following review.
It’s only been 9 years since "Spring Awakening" opened on Broadway and it's natural to think that a revival now would come much too soon, but think again.
It may not seem all that different from the original production but the participation of deaf actors provides an added nuance that enhances the century-old story on which the musical is based.
Set in 1891 Germany, it's a heavily plotted tragedy about high-school age students and the stern and repressed adults who refuse to acknowledge their burgeoning sexuality. The parents and teachers are in fact tone-deaf to the curious adolescents. And that dimension is served so pointedly by the casting of the deaf actors. In essence the students and grownups speak a different language. And the use of American Sign Language provides a metaphorical layer to the generational divide.
Conceptually it's an inspired touch but Michael Arden's meticulous direction adds the poetry and emotion that gives this version its resonance. Half of the cast is comprised of hearing actors who voice their lines and simultaneously use American Sign Language. The other half is deaf and they’re given voice by other actors who work in tandem with them. Occasionally the dialogue is all signed and for those scenes, we see the words written out. Sounds complicated but the staging, graced with beautifully evocative choreography and design elements, make for a moving experience.
And then there's the music. Duncan Sheik's brilliant score with lyrics by Steven Sater alternate between gorgeous folk ballads and rock anthems capturing the hormonal minefield that is a teenager in puberty.
The performances are all first rate. The adults Marlee Matlin, Camryn Manheim, Patrick Page and Russell Harvard in multiple roles are excellent. But the show belongs to its younger actors, including a lovely actress who's wheelchair bound. Gifted beyond reason, I have to single out Daniel N. Durant as Moritz; Sandra Mae Frank as Wendla, Katie Boeck providing Wendla's voice and Austin P. McKenzie as Melchior.
Just as the Deaf West Theatre production of "Big River" made us see and hear Broadway in a new light, so too does this exquisitely rendered production featuring deaf and hearing actors sharing the big stage in one seamless stroke of reinvention.