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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Deaf West Theatre's Spring Awakening on Broadway. Touches the senses. Just. Like.That.



     Musicals move me. Once in a while, a special show can pluck at my heartstrings and even bring tears to my eyes. Last weekend, I saw Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening on Broadway – a completely unique performance where some actors are singing and speaking and others are signing, and it all comes together in a beautiful, soul-tapping masterpiece of sight and sound.

     Standing in line with my tickets at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, I sort of knew what I was in for. I’d seen the tour of Spring Awakening when it came to Pittsburgh a few years ago. I knew that the music, written by Duncan Sheik, was going to be melancholy and perfectly dissonant. I knew the story boasted a heavy message, and that it would be sad and, at times, offensive to some (not me.) I wasn’t prepared, however, for how deeply the addition of American Sign Language would impact the emotional punch of the show.

     As the first act opens, Katie Boeck and Sandra Mae Frank break into the song, “Mama Who Bore Me,” originally sung by Glee’s Lea Michele. Katie is playing guitar and singing, and Sandra Mae is signing in the role of the naïve Wendla, who doesn’t yet understand the changes her adolescent body is experiencing.  The music is haunting. The movement and facial expression that Sandra Mae brings to the stage are equally stunning. The use of American Sign Language enhances the scene and brings something that was already perfect to a whole new level of exquisiteness. In fact, every scene is made more powerful by the sign in the choreography. Spring Awakening’s deeply sensual theme is so appropriately conveyed through movement, it seems to have been destined that Deaf West would perform this show.

     Having worked as a teacher and interpreter with Deaf students for several years, seeing this show meant something more to me than it maybe would have to someone who has no links to the Deaf community.

     Deaf actors on Broadway.
     In a Tony-winning musical.
     It totally blew my mind.

     Deaf actors, starring in a musical.
     Something totally unexpected.
     Something that, to the doubter, seems like it may not work at all...
     Is actually a phenomenon that’s far too beautiful to imagine without seeing it with your own eyes.
     What a testament to the fact that talent and drive and open-mindedness can really overcome just about anything.

     Run to see it. Don’t walk. Spring Awakening is on Broadway for a limited engagement. And, you don’t want to miss it.


    And, pssst – my fellow Pittsburghers, there’s a hometown boy in the show. Andy Mientus, who also starred as Marius in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables and Kyle in NBC’s hit show, Smash, plays Hanschen in the show. He’s incredibly talented, and, let’s face it, we Yinzers love to cheer for a hometown hero.

     Bravo to the cast of Spring Awakening 2015! I hope I am lucky enough to be able to see more of Deaf West productions in the future!


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