of Spring Awakening
I could feel the anxiety walking into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre the other evening to see the revival of one of my all time favorite shows, Spring Awakening. The memories I have from seeing the 2007 production starring Lea Michelle and Jonathon Groff are etched in my musical memory, and I knew it was going to be an endeavor to silence that memory of every sung note stored in my mind, or else all I would do is compare. And that is a deadly place to be when seeing a beloved show. If it can be silenced by the pure artistry witnessed, a new memory can be made (much like when I saw the Michael Cerveris/Patti Lupone magnificent revival of Sweeney Todd). If it can’t, like when I saw Imelda Staunton in Gypsy this past July in London, we are in trouble.
There is very little trouble to be had in Deaf West Theater’s riveting production of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening. It did prove to be a bit of a challenge to silence the memory of Lea Michelle’s voice in the opening number ‘Mama Who Bore Me’. Katie Boeck’s (voice of Wendla) singing is lovely and emotionally rich, but not as astounding as Michelle’s I’m sorry to say. But I did manage to set that aside and tune in to what was in front of me. Once I stopped comparing, then the show deepened and enriched my soul with its wonder and its beauty. The artistry and inventiveness of the direction, (Michael Arden) in the balancing and the use of signing and singing, created an amazing psychology for some of the character duos. The deaf actor/singing voice concept that was utilized by some gave us a deeper understanding of their inner turmoil, fear, lust, and love. Anyone who wonders how this will affect the musicality of this production can put that worry aside. Most definitely.
Spencer Liff’s choreography enriched and created movement etched in meaning and beauty. Only rarely did it feel like the signing interfered. To say more would be criminal, so I apologize if I’m being cryptic, but the concept and the execution delivers. There are moments that are a bit crowded or clumsy, but ultimately the production moves forward beautifully.
These songs can bring tears to my eyes even just listening to the recording, and by the end of this evening the tears were flowing from my eyes and I was not alone in this. The standout performance for me was Austin P. McKenzie as Melchior. He made me forget about all others, as did Krysta Rodriguez as Ilse. Her performance and her song “Blue Wind” broke my heart. As did “The Song of Purple Summer” (one of my favorites) sung by company. All the Boys and the Girls singing and performing as a group took my breath away with their power, harmony, and richness. This was the Spring Awakening I loved, full of pain, sadness, joy, love and all else. Did it erase or replace that memory in my head of the 2007 production? No it did not, but it will be remembered and maybe it established the show, rather then just that one glorious production, as still one of my favorite musicals of all time.