Something truly spectacular, moving, and incredible is happening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. When producers announced they were bringing the Deaf West Theatre's production of Spring Awakening to Broadway after it's LA run, many felt it was too soon for a musical that just left Broadway six years ago. But producer Ken Davenport is no theater-fool. He knows a good thing when he finds it and knew this production deserved to be seen by a New York audience.
The story of teens feeling they are not heard by adults takes on a brand new meaning when half of the cast is deaf. Director Michael Arden and choreographer Spencer Liff have created images on this stage that take your breath away. (The tree choreography: exquisite. Father/Son scene - stunning.) There are some roles played by one speaking/singing actor (who often signs) while others are played by actors that sign their roles while others supply the singing voice. It's the connection between this cast that makes it so moving. There is a sense of 'us-versus-them' which is more prevalent when teachers don't want students to sign or hearing-impaired performers look to their vocal counterparts for reassurance of a choice being made on stage. These moments are pure brilliance.
I never saw the show the first time around. I knew the music, but I didn't know all of the story. I must say that I saw the Gypsy Run-through 3 weeks ago and am amazed by how much this show has grown in those three weeks. There was an electricity in the theater that night, but now - that electricity has created a current that runs through every performer on that stage. Powerful. While I can't be one to compare it to the original, I can say that the story-telling in this production is spot on.
Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater's music and lyrics sound and LOOK amazing as we witness it signed. Michael Arden has placed himself square into a 'must work with' spot among Broadway directors. And the lighting, sound, projections all add to an amazing night.
At the gypsy run, I felt I could tell who the Broadway vets were (even without a playbill in my hand). Tonight - every single performer on that stage made me believe I was watching someone who has been doing this their whole life. Even the two understudies who were in tonight. (Alexandria Wailes was beautiful in the Marlee Matlin roles and Van Hughes knocked it out of the park as the voice of Ernst/Piano when he wailed on "Touch Me".)
While everyone in the cast is wonderful, there are a few stand-outs for me. When Krysta Rodriguez is on stage, I can't take my eyes from her. She is captivating and a star. Daniel N. Durant has layered Moritz in such a way that I found myself in constant awe of his talent. Andy Mientus OWNS the role of Hanschen. Ali Stroker has expressions that reach to the back of the house. I am in love with Alex Wyse and his voice. Camryn Manheim plays every single adult female role with gusto and diversity. Austin P. McKenzie takes Melchior to a new place, making us forget a certain gentleman one block over that originated the role. He is heart-breaking in his constant conflict and turmoil. Sandra Mae Frank is sweet, innocent, and mesmerizing as Wendla and Katie Boeck compliments her greatly in both incredible voice and a true feeling of support for everything Frank does with her body. These two work beautifully together to create one character.
I don't want to say too much except - go see this show. The show opened two nights ago and tonight, there were entirely too many empty seats in the orchestra section. No matter your age, you can recall and relate to that feeling of not being heard, understood, or attempting to find your way from adolescence to adulthood.