Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening” Revival Breaks the Mold for Broadway Shows

The Spring Awakening revival on Broadway is really a revolution. It’s changing the way we should be looking at Broadway shows.

Spring Awakening is based on a controversial 1891-banned play written German author Frank Wedekind. His work led to the original groundbreaking musical that opened on Broadway in 2006.

The musical focuses on the lives of three teenagers in 1891 Germany while they are trying to figure out where they belong in the world as they move into adulthood. But trust me, this isn’t your Breakfast Club-type of teen-angst show. This goes much deeper. Touching upon still-controversial topics like teen sex and pregnancy, abortion, suicide, masturbation and homosexuality.

The revival includes the barbaric 1880 resolution passed in schools in the United States and Europe, where sign language was no longer taught and Deaf students had to learn lip reading and speech mimicking. Those who could not learn in such a way were deemed failures.

All 22 Deaf and hearing actors on stage in Spring Awakening use American Sign Language. The Deaf actors each had their own ‘voice’ on stage with them, acting as their character’s conscience.

The voices for the two main characters were perfectly chosen. For Wendla, Deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank and Voice actress Katie Boeck were flawless together. Boeck’s soft and innocent soprano helped to portray Wendla’s innocence. For Moritz, Deaf Actor Daniel Durant and voice actor Alex Boniello were also a superb pair. Boniello’s sad, angry, and powerful voice brought back memories of John Gallagher Jr. – who originated the role on Broadway.

The only disappointing moment for me was during ‘The Dark I Know Well.” Voice of Martha, Katherine Gallagher, fell short as she attempted to bring her own edge to the song, taking away from the lyrics.

There were moments throughout the show where sign language or voice interpretation could not be used, so the words were projected on the wall of the set, using different fonts for each character. Those moments were the most incredible throughout the show, comparable only to the times when the Deaf actors spoke or yelled.

There is no doubt that this show was meant to be portrayed with the inclusion of sign language. The addition of Deaf history and the extra symbolism that teens often feel like they aren’t heard by society, made the experience that much more special.

You will leave feeling invigorated; you will have a rush of emotions. You will also wonder – why aren’t there more Deaf West revivals out on Broadway?

Spring Awakening is a limited engagement on Broadway – closing on January 24.

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