All Shall Know the Wonder … of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening

Note: This may contain spoilers about the show. In addition, the show contains themes of suicide and abuse (physical and sexual). Continue at your own discretion.

  

I’ve considered myself a Spring Awakening fangirl since 2007.

I don’t remember why, but somehow I came into possession of the original Broadway cast recording a few weeks before I went to actually see the show when it was first on Broadway in 2006. I was fortunate enough to see the show twice on the original run, and once on tour. The soundtrack has been one of my favorite musical soundtracks for years. 

The show tells the story of young teenagers in 19th century Germany discovering sex and sexuality, and in turn, themselves. Based on Frank Wedekind’s play of the same title, Spring Awakening as a musical was conceived and created by Steven Sater and Duncan Shiek. The show sets themes of sex, mental illness, love, abuse, and growing up in Germany in 1891, against a blazing rock music score.

I never thought that anything could top seeing the original Broadway cast, which included big names like Lea Michele (Glee), Jon Groff (Frozen), John Gallagher Jr. (American Idiot), and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect), before they got their next big roles.

And then Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening came to Broadway.

As soon as I saw that the show was coming back, I knew I had to be there. I was fortunate enough to get tickets for last Sunday, 9/13, through work. The show is still in previews, but I was ready to see it ASAP. 

I went in with my mom, three of her friends, and one of my sister’s friends (who has been a good friend to me over the years as well). We got our seats, I bought a t-shirt, and we settled in for the show.

I don’t want to spoil the show for those who may see it, so I’ll try not to give much away. But as soon as the cast stepped on stage, I was captivated. From the opening notes of ‘Mama Who Bore Me,’ I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was seeing my favorite musical on Broadway again. And until the final notes of ‘Purple Summer,’ I was captivated beyond words.

For those of you who are unaware, this production is done by Deaf West Theatre, a LA based theatrical company that makes theater accessible for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. This particular version of Spring Awakening is performed by both deaf and hearing actors, in both American Sign Language and English. And it’s not just the deaf actors who sign — the hearing actors sign their way through the show as well, making it a fully accessible production for deaf/hard of hearing audiences.

Nearly everyone in the cast is making their Broadway debut in this production. In addition, Ali Stroker (The Glee Project) is making her Broadway debut as the first person on Broadway — ever — to be in a wheelchair. This show is making history all over the place.

The cast is, without a doubt, purely incredible. Each of the deaf/hard of hearing actors has a musician counterpart who provides their lines and singing parts alongside the sign language, while also performing on their own instruments. The characters also interact with their hearing counterparts, so they’re not just background.

The blend of sign language and spoken/sung word is beautifully done. The performance is inspiring and breathtaking, from beginning to end.

The story of Spring Awakening is remarkable on its own. But Deaf West’s interpretation, incorporating sign language into the story, takes it to a whole new level.
I can’t imagine what kind of artistry had to go into making this production so spectacular. It’s incredible to watch all of the actors, but especially the deaf actors, who perform along with music they can’t hear. The flow is just unbelievable to experience.

I was fortunate enough to get a set of tickets for today’s matinee. The show is still in previews, and I noted a few changes in today’s performance (one of the fun parts of seeing a show in previews!). The cast was, again, wonderful beyond words. The energy is strong, the message is clear, and I found myself in tears yet again. I know I’ll be doing my best to see it again as soon as possible.

The show is only on Broadway until mid-January. If you’re thinking about seeing it, I urge you to go (if you can). It is by far the most powerful show I’ve seen, maybe ever. But it’s so hard to describe the beauty — it’s something you have to see for yourself.

Last week on Instagram, the cast was asked to finish the sentence “All shall know the wonder…”

In the musical, this sentence is finished with “of purple summer.”

In my opinion, though, all shall know the wonder of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening.

Because it truly is wonderful.

  

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