Deaf West Theater’s production of “Spring Awakening” – Review

Deaf West Theater’s production of “Spring Awakening” – Review

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Last night I went and saw Deaf West Theater’s version of “Spring Awakening.” The idea of using a cast of actors, some of which are deaf, to perform a musical is one that takes a second to get used to. However, “Spring Awakening” is perhaps one of the best shows for it. The show focuses a lot on communication, or the lack thereof, between adults and children. As such, a deaf cast would certainly bring a new level/layer to understanding and being frustrated by a communication barrier. Thankfully, the show does not rely on this as a gimmick. Instead, it uses sign language, projected text, and vocalists who perform songs as a mirror/shadow of the deaf actor to enrich the story. As a major fan of the original Broadway production (which I attended four times) I was very familiar with the material, but this production tells the same story in new and interesting ways. Certain moments in the show that I’d glossed over before, felt much more important because of the performances given by the actors. When Wendla begs Melchior to hit her with switch because she has never felt “anything” (a scene I always found problematic in the original Broadway version) the entire cast signs the word “anything.” By punctuating this word, the scene certainly felt more justified than it had before. There were a thousand tiny moments like this in the show, and the actors all give a full out performance that is truly glorious to behold. This makes the quiet and dark moments in the show extra chilling, and the fun bombastic numbers even more engaging.

Ultimately, I wanted to see this show because I’m a huge fan of the musical, and I thought the idea of using a deaf cast was pitch perfect. The show runs till the end of January and I’m trying to figure out if there is a way for me to go again. I know that there are a ton of amazing shows on Broadway right now, but this gem is truly one that should be seen by all people who believe that theatre has power. The story the kids are telling on the stage, is one that deserves our full attention.

China Doll – Broadway – Theatre Patrons be warned – avoid this play!


WARNING THEATRE PATRONS – Avoid “China Doll”

Last night I was given the incredible gift of two tickets to a preview performance of “China Doll” on Broadway. The show stars Al Pacino and is a new play written by David Mamet. For this reason, the tickets are exceptionally expensive. I am sad to report this, but the only thing to applaud about “China Doll” is their marketing. On paper, the play is an easy sell. One would think the combination of “A New David Mamet Play” starring “Al Pacino” would be a natural Broadway Smash, one that would justify the roughly $400.00 ticket price. However, the play is an utter bomb!

Honestly, if Pacino just read the phonebook he’d be more interesting. Instead we watch him yell at people on the phone while ignoring the only other actor on stage. This is made even more maddening by him constantly repeating the same 2 basic “plot points” (if one could even call it that) to these imaginary people while simultaneously speaking in a way to let us know what the theoretical person on the other side of the conversation is saying by constantly repeating it back to them. To make matters worse, the main thing he is talking about is complaining that his attempt to prevent paying $5 Million dollars in sales tax on his $50 million private jet her purchased has failed, and that he might, god forbid, have to pay it. So the play pretty much boils down to an exceptionally wealthy man yelling at the equivalent of customer service about a problem less than 1% of the population could find relatable.

In a 2 hour play, I was so bored and disappointed that about thirty minutes in I kept trying to find something entertaining. While Pacino reiterated his boring plan to avoid sales tax to the 4th theoretical person on the phone, I spent much of my time smirking by seeing that a good portion of the audience had fallen asleep.

Honestly, Pacino does his best, and I blame Mamet for the failure of this piece. Mamet’s terrible writing choices of having Pacino talk to people we never hear or see is bad enough, but he also forces Pacino to say about 90% of the text of the play. To do this Pacino relies on numerous prompts embedded in the set. He literally reads a good portion of the play off of laptops, iPads, and newspapers. In addition, it is painfully obvious that when he is “on the phone” he is being fed his lines remotely. This makes the portions when he is forced to actually speak to the other actor on stage even more painful, as he stumbles terribly, repeating himself and constantly searching for the next line. Pacino is able to play this off in his own way, but he mainly behaves like Jerry Stiller who famously delivered his lines in such an erratic way because he was unable to remember them properly.

The other actor on stage is to be pitied, however he takes his duties to basically be a prompt and prop to heart. His performance, what little of it the play provides, is wooden and he appears to be doing a lot of acting exercises to keep himself entertained while he waits Pacino drowns on stage. His attempts to interact with his co-star are ignored, so I can’t blame him.

Mamet should be ashamed of himself for this, and I feel sorry for Pacino, his co-star, and all the people backstage who are forced to watch this tragedy unfold night after night. The actors certainly try, but they know they are essentially in a zombie play that just needs to be put out of its misery.

My only hope is that, as the play is still in previews, that they fix this. However, to do this, the play would basically need to be completely rewritten.

Ragtime – A review that may be late, but oh well.

So prior to last night, the only thing I knew about Ragtime was Audra McDonald and the parody from Forbidden Broadway. I had heard the soundtrack once, and while I thought the music was good, none of it was so overpowering that I felt the need to memorize it.

All that changed last night. I attended one of the last few performances of the Broadway Revival of Ragtime. It was unbelievable, and I only wish that it had received the kind of attention it deserves. When the curtain rose, the entire cast, which appears in the opening, was greeted with thunderous applause which lasted a good 4-5 minutes, they stood there and soaked in the love the audience was feeding them, and I knew at once this was going to be a great show. The audience was with these actors/characters every step of the way, and I started tearing up from the 2nd song in the show.

My tears during the performance can mainly be attributed to one actress. Christiane Noll, who plays Mother, is far and away the best performer in the show. However, she has very stiff competition, as every single actor in the show is incredible. What sets Mrs. Noll apart is the fact that she truly inhabits her character and manages to sing every note in the score with what appears to be no effort at all. It was absolutely spell binding, and I fear I might have missed out on other small moments in the show, because I could not take my eyes off of her.I cannot really say more about how incredible she was, but I know I shall be following her very closely from now on, and hope to see her in another venue soon.

The rest of the cast was completely top notch. Quentin Earl Darrington’s portrayal of Coalhouse is amazing. He manages to play a piano frame in a way you’d swear music was really coming out of it, and his amazing voice is beautifully paired by his exquisite skill as an actor. Stephanie Umoh, who was faced with the great challenge of performing the role originated by Audra McDonald, gave Sarah a new life. I think the criticism that Umoh is not Audra McDonald is fair, but I didn’t expect her to be. Umoh’s performance is captivating, and when she descends the stairs and rushes into Coalhouse’s arms, she truly stole the audience’s heart. Her vocal technique was amazing to watch, but it seemed that the score required her to work very hard to give the audience the nearly pitch perfect performance she gave. Audra’s performance might have been more effortless, but Umoh’s tenacity gave Sarah an edge which truly worked for her character.

I could go on about how each performer was great, but I won’t.

The director/choreographer, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, deserves some serious credit. Her ability to move the large cast in such a fluid and appealing manner was absolutely breathtaking. The end of the opening number finished with all three race/classes doing 3 distinctly different dances to the same song, and it worked beautifully. In addition, her use of backlighting to create the shadow effect, for the Silhoutte’s was perfect. The dancing in the show never felt out of place, and never felt strange. Every movement of every actor, be it dance or general blocking, felt intuitive and natural.

The creative team behind the musical deserves a big round of applause. The original set for Ragtime was mocked for being insanely large, but the set for the revival was minimal. It was a cool complicated three tiered platform which was connected in fun and interesting ways. Due to it’s design, it could look like a train station and an Atlantic Boardwalk within seconds, simply by adding small touches.

If this version of Ragtime had been the original version in 1998, I think Lion King would have had much steeper competition. The Revival closes on the 10th of this month, 2 days from now. If you can go, then go! You will be sad you missed out on the chance!

Music for Manhattan

So I have to say. When you walk around New York the concept of having your own soundtrack is absolutely wonderful!

Here are some songs I enjoy

Manhattan – Ella Fitzgerald

Gardenia – Mandy Moore

Body’s a Temple – Jay Brannan

Call Me When You’re Sober – Evanescence

Losing Me – Diego

Beyond My Wildest Dreams – Little Mermaid (Sierra Boggess)