#NotGone – The Wonder of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening

After seven visits to New York City to see Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway, I think it’s safe to say I’m somewhat obsessed.

I’ve been asked countless times, “why do you love this show? Why do you keep spending money to go see it? What is it about Spring Awakening?”

I’ve written in this space about the show before. But I don’t think I’ve ever been able to truly capture what Spring Awakening makes me feel. I don’t think there are words for it. All I can really say is that this production made me want to keep coming back over and over again.

Back in December, I brought my brother and sister to see the show. It was my fifth time. And as I was sitting in the theater, sometime during the second act, I thought “this cannot be the last time I see this show.” The next day, I bought two tickets for closing night. I couldn’t believe they were still available, a month before closing, at regular price. But there they were, and within minutes, I had the tickets in my email. 

On Saturday, Winter Storm Jonas dropped MAJOR snow on the northeast. For the first time that I can remember, Broadway shut down. As I watched 33 inches of snow fall in my yard, I kept my fingers crossed that things would get cleared up for Sunday so that Broadway could reopen and Spring Awakening could get the closing it deserved. While they lost two performances, the show was back up and running yesterday, and able to go out with a bang last night.

My mom and I woke up yesterday morning and trekked outside to clean off our cars in the hopes of getting into the city. The roads were fairly clear, up until right before the Helix of the Lincoln Tunnel, which for some reason wasn’t plowed. But we made it in. 

The city after a snowstorm is one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. Where do you even put that much snow? It took us longer to get to our parking garage than it did to get into the city. We were constantly re-routed to other streets as the plows worked diligently to clear the streets, but I’ve never seen that much slush in my life.

After an excellent dinner at Becco, my mom and I made our way to 47th for the show. At 7 pm (the show had a 7:30 start time), the line to get into the theater wrapped around the block, almost all the way to 48th. Finally, at about 7:15, the line started moving. I think there was some kind of ticketing issue, because we got to our seats at 7:34 and still had about 15 minutes before the show load finished.

For those who have not experienced the show, I should note that Spring Awakening had a “pre-show” where the cast got into their costumes and warmed up on stage. Usually the audience doesn’t seem to pay much attention, but last night, as each actor walked onstage, every single one of them received thunderous applause (with a lot of ASL “applause” mixed in). 

As the show began, I was full of sadness, knowing that this was the last time these actors would be performing this show on Broadway. Though the pre-show was filled with hugs and a few tears, the cast gave it their all. Applause between each number lasted about 30 seconds longer than it usually would. Scenes that normally moved very quickly from one to the other had to be paused to allow the audience to get their applause in and settle in for the next one. Most notably, the scene between “My Junk” and “Touch Me,” which normally leaves no room for applause, went for the transition and then had to stop; lead actor Austin McKenzie started his line, paused for the applause, and then picked up his line right where it left off. These actors are pros, after all, but you could tell they were loving the energy.

At intermission, everyone around me was gushing about how incredible the show was. I ended up talking to some people who had been at BroadwayCon, and one hearing girl who is fluent in ASL and was signing as she spoke. She was so blown away by the show, and gave me some resources to start my own ASL learning journey.

The second act was just as perfect and high energy as the first, with an almost 1 1/2 minute long standing ovation after “Totally F*cked,” the show’s “11:00 number.” For those of you unfamiliar with the show, the second act deals with some pretty heavy themes of death and suicide. Despite the audience’s high energy, there were moments where you could hear a pin drop. 

At the end of the show, the cast comes on stage to perform “Purple Summer,” the closing number. The ending of the number is just one person signing as they walk offstage, giving the audience about 30 seconds of silence. Every time I have seen it, I’ve found myself holding my breath. Last night, I could hear a few sniffles as people (myself included) cried through it. But again, it was pretty much silent until the lights went out. It was a perfect, beautiful ending for a perfect, beautiful show.

After the curtain call, director Michael Arden came onstage to thank literally everyone who had contributed to the show. He spoke about the show’s transition from Los Angeles to Broadway, and thanked the producers for taking a chance on the idea. Then, Steven Sater, one of the composers/writers of the show gave a brief history of the show, and shared some powerful quotes about closing a show on Broadway. Overall, the entire night was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Though Spring Awakening was only on Broadway for a short time (about 20 weeks), having the opportunity to watch it seven times between previews to closing night was such a blessing. In all of my years of following Broadway shows, I have never seen such a tight-knit, interactive cast. Every single one of them is so beautiful, graceful, and professional (I was fortunate enough to meet most of the cast at the stage door back in October). The brought so much to Broadway, and I hope that this show will start a trend of Deaf West Theater doing more Broadway productions, making theater accessible for d/Deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Though ticket sales weren’t stellar during the beginning of the run, seeing sold-out performances over and over again  at the end was a wonderful thing. 

I can’t say enough great things about Spring Awakening, but I will say this: In 2015/2016, this show is exactly what Broadway needed. And you all know that as soon as this show’s tour crosses the Florida border, I’ll be there. I hope that everyone reading this gets the chance to know the wonder of Spring Awakening as it embarks on its tour in 2017.

Thank you, Deaf West. Thank you, Spring Awakening. Thank you for inspiring me to break out of my comfort zone and pursue a new language, and thank you for inspiring me to learn about a new culture. Thank you for turning my favorite musical into something so important and special. And thank you, for seven wonderful, unique, beautiful visits to your stunning performance. You’re #NotGone. You will live in the hearts and minds of all who know the wonder.


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