I've yet to see Deaf West's revival production of Spring Awakening, but I really want to. The company puts on beautiful, innovative productions of shows featuring casts of deaf and hearing actors. Spring Awakening is their second revival to come to Broadway. It's made all the more exciting, again (like their Big River), by the subtext added in incorporating parallels between the themes of the musical and the treatment of deaf people in society. Every review I read of this production mentions a scene where one of the deaf actors is forced to try and speak out, rather than sign, a lesson by a cruel teacher. This was standard practice for incorporating deaf students into the classroom before protections were put into place at a federal level for disabled students. Think a more extreme version of punishing left-handed students for writing with the wrong hand.
Spring Awakening is a musical about teenagers trying to find their place in the world under the strict and ever-present eye of their parents and educators. They wind up making tragic choices in secret that could have been avoided if their parents/educators were open to a dialogue rather than strict indoctrination.
This Michael Arden-directed production makes these circumstances all the more apparent by having all the principle roles played by hearing and deaf actors simultaneously. We're forced to watch half of the cast literally struggle to communicate with adults who do not reciprocate in the same language. The deaf actors are taught and raised by the hearing adults, and the hearing actors are taught and raised by the deaf actors. Everyone signs the songs, but half the cast cannot sing along.
The cast of Spring Awakening performed "Touch Me" on Late Night with Seth Meyers last night/this morning (depending on how you view scheduling) and it's beautiful. It's enough to make me feel sad all over again that a revival of a popular musical is selling so poorly with such a strong vision. I'm just happy at this point that Deaf West gets another show on Broadway. It's another opportunity to open up a dialogue about diversity in casting and accessibility in theater. That it's done through a show that's literally about finding your place in the world when you fear having a unique voice as a person is all the more powerful.
Watch the performance below. It's gorgeous. Then go buy your tickets. The show runs through 24 January at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.