Review: Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening

From Fun Home, the first musical to feature a lesbian main character, to Hamilton, the exploration of a political mastermind, there is no doubt that 2015 has been one of the most progressive years in theatre history. More and more unique stories are being told through the art of musical theatre. But one of this season’s most progressive shows is actually a revival; Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening -- done like you’ve never seen before. This revival comes to Broadway from Los Angeles’ Deaf West Theatre company. In fact, almost half of the cast will never be able to hear the music. The cast consists of 8 actors who are completely deaf. The show, both dialogue and song, is performed fully in American Sign Language (ASL), as well as in English. Every deaf actor has a hearing counterpart who is worked seamlessly into the storyline, making for a truly beautiful piece of theatre.

WATCH OUT - SPOILERS AHEAD!

Deaf West’s revival of Spring Awakening was one of the most amazing productions I have ever seen. Going into the production, I knew very little about ASL. The way the ASL flawlessly matched the dialogue in the show was something nothing I had ever seen before. It almost became a part of the choreography. There are a few moments where the ASL is stopped or there is no speaking, but the dialogue is still projected onto pieces of the set so everyone can remain a part of the story.

One of the most chilling moments is a confrontation between the sleepy headed Moritz Stiefel, played by deaf actor Daniel N. Durant, and his father, played by deaf actor Russell Harvard. No dialogue is spoken by the character’s hearing counterparts, the scene is completely silent. Moritz reveals to his father that he has failed his exams and will not advance in school. His father berates him in sign language, the dialogue projected onto the back wall of the stage. But there is one moment where Harvard stops signing and begins using his voice to yell at Durant. The entire theater was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

This production of Spring Awakening had me laughing, crying, and on the edge of my seat every moment. The show itself is one that resonates with the audience, but the addition of ASL creates for a magical night of theatre you will never be able to experience anywhere else. I highly encourage everyone to see it.

Spring Awakening* is running until January 24, 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Tickets are available at http://www.springawakeningthemusical.com/

*Trigger Warning: Spring Awakening contains material pertaining to situations such as rape, physical abuse, and suicide.