I'm not going to go into the brilliance of this Steven Sater/Duncan Sheik-penned musical based on the 19th Century German play by Frank Wedekind, and how they took this ahead-of-its-time play and made it modern and relevant. I've written enough words about that here and here. Instead I'll focus on the brilliance and uniqueness of this particular interpretation.
Whenever I happen to be at a theater performance with ASL interpretation, I have a hard time taking my eyes off the interpreters because they're so expressive. With this production, I didn't have to. ASL has been incorporated into the show not as an addendum, but as an integral part of the storytelling. Even if you don't understand a single sign, the sign language adds so much depth to the words and music. Musicals express a heightened reality, where things that cannot be expressed in words are expressed through music. Here, things that cannot be expressed through words or even music are expressed through sign language, which may be the most beautiful and expressive language in the world. It's like a dance, and for a show that featured repeated hand movements and choreography in its original form, ASL is a perfect fit. Many of the roles (including Wendla and Moritz) are double-cast with one actor playing the character and signing, and another actor speaking and singing in the background, not just providing the audible voice of the character but also the inner voice. It's like the two actors are playing two parts of the same person, often interacting with each other like we all interact with that inner voice in our heads. At some point I lost track of who was singing and who was signing as it all joined together to create one singular voice.
|Melchi und Wendla (Austin P. McKenzie and Sandra Mae Frank)
The entire ensemble of young people is wonderful, singing, signing, acting, playing guitar or piano or bass (in addition to the four band members). The four adult actors are great too, including Camryn Manheim (from one of my favorite TV shows of the past, The Practice) in what appears to be her stage debut, and Alexandria Wailes (filling in for Marlee Matlin at the performance I saw). Another remarkable thing about this show is that it features the first actor in a wheelchair on Broadway, which I find astounding (Broadway could learn could learn a thing or two from Mixed Blood Theatre). Ali Stroker (whom I recognized from another favorite TV show of the recent past, Glee) is a delight and adds another layer of inclusiveness and representation to this production.
|the beautiful cast of Spring Awakening
Spring Awakening is a beautiful, inventive, and inclusive production of a brilliantly written musical, and a wonderful start to my week of Broadway. Get your tickets now (or check out the TKTS line in NYC). Next up for me: a pretty rotten two-show day seeing Hamilton and Something Rotten!
Read more of my Broadway reviews here.