Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spring Returns to Broadway in Time for Fall

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.             

Friday, September 11, 2015

What Did We Learn from 9/11?

Every year we think back to that horrific day in our history where everything changed. People post memories online. We are transported for a moment back to what started out as a beautiful September morning. Then we think about how it all unfolded, where we were, taking stock of friends we knew that worked in lower Manhattan or in the Pentagon area. Trying to reach out to people and phone lines being jammed.

Everyone has stories from their own perspective from that tragic day, but the common story was how people helped and supported each other. After standing in Hoboken and staring at the New York skyline, I got back on my train to head home. As I waited for my train to leave the station that morning, I watched people getting on who had just arrived from lower Manhattan. There was such kindness on that train before we even knew the enormity of it all. If we try and find a positive about 9/11, it’s how the country came together. 

We truly were once again the UNITED states of America.

Yet 14 years later, as we witness men and women all wanting to lead our country as the next president, we are more unraveled as a country than we have been in years. Gone are those feelings about 9/11/01 that we are all in this together. Now it’s us/them - right/left - and the divide becomes wider and wider. There isn’t a leader that seems to want to unite. That’s the saddest part of watching the elections unfold. It’s all about pandering, scripted responses, and how much air time can they get in the sea of candidates.

And then last night, Stephen Colbert (only in his third episode of the new Late Show) brings Vice President Joe Biden on and they travel to a place never explored in late night TV. In a world full of comedy, these two men had the most honest and amazing discussion. Biden allowed his humanity and humility to shine through - all the while saying that’s not something he should do. Almost apologizing for being human…as if politicians and those running for office should not show that part of their personalities. Through his personal grief (something Colbert can completely relate to), he displayed what we are missing in the current elections: humanity.

I’m not saying Biden should be forced to run. I’m saying it was nice to be reminded we are all the same. We hurt. We grieve. We bleed red. No matter what political affiliation we are a part of - we are Americans. It would be great to remember how we knew that after 9/11 and have potential leaders show how they could get us there again without having to go through another tragedy. We always say we will never forget, but it sure seems we forget what it felt like to be united.