Just when I thought it would be easy to discount yet another rendition of Spring Awakening on the Los Angeles theatre scene (we’ve witnessed more than a few in the last several seasons), Deaf West Theatre pulled out all the stops and delivered hands-down one of the most exciting, pop/rock musical productions to date. The kicker — it’s all in sign language!
Spot on casting that was age appropriate with choreography that this former dance/movement professional could finally sink her teeth into, and emerging talent beyond imagination, these kids skipped all of the teen angst and went straight for the love.
I was curious, however, about the reason for this play’s never-ending popularity. So I turned to one of my colleagues sitting beside me during this performance and asked, “What do you think keeps this story going? What keeps it from getting old, keeps it fresh? I mean, it’s been around a long time. The issues are not new in any way. They’re not taboo. Most of them are in the open. And it’s probably a given that generationally teenagers in every age are always going to be different from their parents…want different things than their parents…maybe.”
“Rebellion” was the answer I got. Rebelling against the status quo. “Yes, definitely” I thought. But from my point of view, there was so much more. It went much deeper than that.
We live in a time where teen rebellion almost seems too superficial a label to describe kids today, what they are dealing with, and more to the point how they are handling their environments, the issues from body consciousness, to sexual identities, to bullying, their own spirited emotions, dreams, fantasies and realities – everything really. And certainly the story itself, although taking place in a century before ours handles the repetitive issue of adolescent sexual awakening. It’s a topic, we can count on to stay at the forefront of tween to college aged conversations until the end of time as long as teenagers exist. But oddly enough this Spring Awakening, based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 expressionist play, concurrently places us in a distant time frame yet appears so modern, so real, so “right now” that mere rebelliousness feels like an old-fashioned ideal.
In truth, all I could see from these kids was pure, unadulterated, naive, passion. And that is the fully tapped first cause in this production of Spring Awakening that takes the story, the music, the ideas, and all the characters to such a heightened place, there is no coming down from the nirvana. It is the reason that although the script has a particular set of circumstances that it deals with, it is totally new and appealing to youth who are hormonally exploding and emotionally looking for definition, and wholeheartedly believable and empathetic to seasoned, experienced elders of any crowd packed into the same house, for the same performance. It’s THAT good!
Technically, it is utterly mastered and directionally perfected musical theatre. Timing & delivery, sight & sound, choreography, costumes, set design, singing, signing, and acting, is innovative. There is not a single, solitary moment that is out-of-place. The cast is gorgeous in every way inside and out. Really, these kids are special. As an ensemble they are unstoppable.
An immersive production simultaneously performed in American Sign Language and spoken English one of the key components which evokes astounding electricity, is that the deaf performers had to very uncommonly pace their signing with the music’s tempo. The entire cast was urged by Director Michael Arden to really stretch. Nine non-hearing actors sign and fifteen hearing actors who had to learn American Sign Language, sing and sign the roles of their deaf counterparts, also acting as inner selves, mirroring their respective character’s stage play resulting in a perfect storm of exposition.
This is the play you absolutely cannot miss! An exquisite, flawless, cutting-edge ballad of youth for all time.
Presented by Deaf West Theatre in association with The Forest of Arden
Produced by: David J. Kurs, Christopher Sepulveda and Ann E. Wareham
Recommended for mature audiences only: strong language, nudity and adult themes
*ASL Nights on Thursday, Sept. 18.and Thursday, Sept. 25: arrive at 7:30 pm for a 15-minute ASL workshop that teaches signs used in the play.
Starring Joey Antonio, Miles Barbee, J.D. Barton, Jimmy Bellinger, Katie Boeck, Joshua Castille, Julian Comeau, Daniel Durant, Treshelle Edmond, Max Fishman, Sandra Mae Frank, Kathryn Gallagher,Gabrielle Garza, Sean Grandillo, Karla Gutierrez, Joseph Haro, Amelia Hensley, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Marmion, Austin McKenzie, Lauren Patten, Natacha Roi, Rustin Cole Sailors, Daniel David Stewart, Ali Stroker, Alexandra Winter
Music by Duncan Sheik
Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Michael Arden
Musical Direction by Jared Stein
Choreography by Spencer Liff
Set Design by Christopher Scott Murillo
Photo (above) by Tate Tullier: Sandra Mae Frank, Treshelle Edmond, Natacha Roi (seated), Katie Boeck (on guitar), Lauren Patten, Amelia Hensle (obscured), Alexandra Winter, Ali Stroker