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.

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Spring Awakening Revisited

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Last night I attended Spring Awakening for the 5th time.  It was an incredible evening so I feel the need to supplement my earlier review.

I was very excited upon entering the theatre because both of the adults were being played by the understudies. I had seen Tony Carlin (understudy for the Adult Men) once before, but I had never seen Frances Mercanti-Anthony play the adult women.

I am not sure if it was the absence of Christine Estabrook and Glenn Fleshler, who normally play the adults, that had the cast so energized last night, or if it was perhaps the knowledge that the show is soon to end, but whatever it was, it really made the show feel completely new, exciting, and different.

Alexandra Socha (Wendla) has certainly grown over the past 4 times I have seen her play Wendla. She still lacks the confidence needed in the shows opening, but she quickly salvages a few  sour notes into a solid performance. It was nice to see her play off of Ms. Mercanti-Anthony as her mother, who brought a lot of maternal warmth to the role. The first scene was still funny, but in a different way than it is with Christine Estabrook. Ms. Socha has truly seemed to delve into her character at every moment, and she has abandoned what I described as “quizzical inflections” on many of her lines.

Hunter Parrish as Melchior was in rare form last night as well. Perhaps the best acting of Melchior I have seen to date came out of Mr. Parrish last night. Of course, it seemed to come with a price, as Mr. Parrish strained on notes I had seen him his consistently the past 4 times I saw the show. However, to an audience member with less knowledge of the show and vocal fundamentals it probably went by unnoticed.

The most notable difference for both Hunter Parrish and Alexndra Socha was the final scene of act 1 and the beginning of act 2, where the two have simulated sex on stage. Most of the time this scene is well acted, but last night the two seemed absolutely on fire with passion for the other. The sex seemed to last longer, with additional moaning. It was exciting to watch. However, it certainly made Melchior look more like a rapist than normal.Whenever I take someone to the show, I often ask them what they think of that moment in the show. Do they view it as rape or not? Most people say that it meets the definition of rape, but is more complicated. Although it certainly maintained the complication, Melchior’s darker tone of voice, seemingly lack of patience or tenderness, and sheer physicality certainly made it harder to view Melchior in any way innocent.

Gerard Canonico has made large steps in making his own Moritz. Every time I feel he is better and better. The scene where he questions his father about what would happen if he failed was incredibly moving, which speaks not only to Mr. Canonico but to Tony Carlin as well. I was also incredibly impressed by Mr. Canonico’s vocal performance of “I don’t do sadness” and “And Then There Were None” which were not only pitch perfect but beautifully acted. The fact that he could be crying one minute and angrily singing the next, was truly impressive.

I would of course feel bad if I did not mention Matt Doyle and Blake Daniel. Matt Doyle still wins my praise as best male vocalist in the cast, and his “Desdemona” monologue never ceases to be both entertaining and awkward. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Daniel were blessed with a rather fun audience and therefore their love scene went off with additional hilarity. It was nice that they knew how to handle holding for the additional laughs, and proved they certainly can work the crowd.

My favorite female singer, Emma Hunton, appeared slightly under the weather last evening. This made me sad, as I feel she is the best Ilse the show has ever had. She managed to sing on pitch, but her ability to entirely suck in a room was not at full strength. Her rendition of “Blue Wind” was still wonderful though.

The women in the cast on a whole actually were in the best vocal shape I had ever heard them last night. Their harmonies which have normally been shakey or simply not there, were absolute perfection last night. I felt I was listening to embelishments on the score which really enriched the female presence.

The men were alright. They seemed to speak latin during “All That’s Known” in a higher pitch last night which was a little strange, but not bad. Andrew Durand was a wonderful Georg, and his sexual dream sequence with his piano teacher was absolutely hilarious. I am not sure he needs to add to much to the end of  “Touch Me” as it starts looking more like “American Idol” audition, and less like all of the kids singing about their problems with physical isolation.

The last bit of my review is about the only “new” actor I saw last night. Ms. Frances Maercanti-Anthony. I thought she brought a lot of new things to the show. She felt more maternal, more loving. However, she does not do as good a job at differentiating her characters as Christine Estabrook. In addition, her reading of the letter to Moritz was rather hard to listen to. She seemed to thing Mrs. Gabore (Melchior’s mother) was less than sincere in her letter, which I whole heartedly disagreed with. Her first scene as Wendla’s mother, and her portrayal of Martha’s mother were her best moments. I particularly loved both her posture and inflection as Martha’s mother, capturing the pain of knowing what her daughter was going through but not feeling strong enough or able enough to stop it.

Spring Awakening Review


So, when I first got to New York, the first show I took my boyfriend to see was “Spring Awakening” and we loved it. Since then, I recently had the privilege of watching it twice in one week, with the current cast starring Hunter Parrish (who is famous from being on Weeds) and I finally feel I am able to give the show a solid review.

For those of whom do not know what it is about. Basically, it is about teenagers who are in a society (the original play was based in 1890n Germany) where parents are unable to face the fact that their children are growing up. They are unable to discuss sex with them, and as a result all of the children are forced to attempt to figure it out for themselves. This leads to a series of reactions from abortion, suicide, death, etc. However the central characters are Melchior Gabore, the golden boy of the local school, Wendla Bergman, a young girl who grew up with Melchior and has now blossomed, and Moritz, a young boy haunted by his sexual dreams who Melchior explains the facts of life too. As we see each of these kids, and their friends, experience and learn about sex the musical unfolds using a folk-infused rock score.

The Men

The Men

The two principle men are Melchior and Moritz. So far I’ve seen Melchior played by Kyle Riabko and Hunter Parrish both of whom are excellent singers. The main difference being that, while Kyle Riabko gave a nearly pitch perfect performance, his acting and interpretation of the role of Melchior simply fell flat. His constant posing, and overly poppish sound made Melchior seemed more like the class kiss ass rather than the class rebel.  As a result, since Melchior is the one who “awakens” most of the sex in the entire play, it changed how the entire performance read to the audience. Perhaps most noticeably was the scene that ends act one where you see Melchior and Wendla consummate their love. Kyle Riabko’s Melchior was perhaps more interested in how he would look having sex than what it was supposed to mean.

Thankfully, I have also seen Hunter Parrish give an excellent performance twice. I assume that this is what Melchior is supposed to be like, rebellious, sexy, confused, and for the most part completely earnest. Hunter’s dedication to the role, and beautiful interpretation leads you to fall in love with Melchior as he battles to experience love without guilt. I will grant that Hunter is not perfect vocally, but he is certainly close. He has a wonderfully resonant sound, and even manages to produce a passable falsetto. I am sure that if I saw him in the run 6 months from now he would certainly have had enough practice to truly be pitch perfect. I also am fine sacrificing a few sour notes, for 2 hours of good acting. It was nice to see that Hunter managed not to scream out “NO!” in a Darth Vader kind of way. A trap I am afraid Mr. Riabko was unable to avoid.

The next male role is Moritz. I have seen Moritz played by Gerard Canonico (who was in the ensemble of the original cast) and Blake Bashoff. Moritz is the character I think MOST people fall in love with. He has trouble with school, trouble with sex, trouble with life, and his parents are rather cruel. Both Mr. Canonico and Bashoff give completely wonderful performances of this role. I felt Blake Bashoff was able to vocally perfect the role which was originated by John Gallagher Junior, but for the most part did an imitation of the clips I’ve seen of the original cast production. I found absolutely nothing wrong with this, as Mr. Gallagher won a Tony for his performance, and felt that Bashoff was able to sing the role better than the original.

As for Gerard Canonico, I feel his acting of the role is better than either of this two predecessors. However, vocally he seems to change from night to night. I may have seen him on a slightly off night, where is voice faltered a few times, but I was moved to tears numerous times as he confronted his desires to be touched, do well in school, have friends, and ultimately end it all. I would have that that upon seeing him 2 times within a week I would be anesthetized to the tear jerker moments, but I think I cried more the second time than I did the first. I am certain Mr. Canonico will have a wonderful run as Moritz. He and Hunter Parrish make the show completely spell binding.

The rest of the men in the show do a wonderful job as well. Both Glenn Fleshler and Tony Carlin do an incredible job playing all of the adult men. I feel the Mr. Fleshler’s performance peaks when he plays Martha’s father and the local priest. Whereas I think Tony Carlin’s performance as the doctor and the school teacher were some of the best. Andrew Durand (Georg) has an incredible musical talent both as piano player and vocalist, and Gabriel Violett makes Otto more than just “The fat guy who yells ‘Bitch’ in ‘Bitch of a Living'”

The other two male cast members I feel deserve some special mention. They are Matt Doyle as Hanschen and Blake Daniel as Ernst. These two I have seen play these roles all three times I have seen the show live. They are incredibly gifted at playing two of the more difficult roles. The roles are not overly difficult because they are gay, but because they are forced to provide lightness and comedy in a show at it’s darkest moments. I originally did not overly like Blake Daniel’s interpretation of Ernst. I thought he was too tall, and his voice overly affected. I am not sure if my opinion has changed or if Mr. Daniel has overly improved the quality of his role, but I now commend him for giving a wonderful performance. Matt Doyle is not only lovely, and hilariously funny as he plays the narcissistic and protentious role of Hanschen, but he simply has the best voice in the cast right now. I wish the show explored these two characters more, because they are such a delight to behold by these two actors.

The Women

The Women

The main woman of Spring Awakening is Wendla. So far I have seen Alexandra Socha and Eryn Murman (who is an understudy) play the role. The competition was non-existent. Eryn Murman sang the role perfectly, and her acting was very good. Alexandra Socha fails to sing the role, but provides the absolute image of naive beauty. Needless to say, I think Eryn Murman did a much better job, and I hope to see her again. I have had to see Alexandra Socha play the role twice, and each time I have been puzzled by her performance vocally. I am not sure if it is the pressure of having to start the show alone or if the songs are just harder to learn but Alexandra Socha struggles through the first act. She does not seem to be able to support her sound in the opening number, and often falls flat. In addition, it is not entirely apparent that she understands all of the lines she says. Many of them have quizzical inflections and her diction often fails her. I will say that she and Hunter Parrish do look wonderful together, but in their duets her voice is compeltely over powered. I think Socha does a good job, but it primarily stems from her perfect look. Thankfully, Socha really pulls out the big guns in act II, and I have felt that each night she saves herself from to scathing a condemnation. Her rendition of “Whispering” is touching and lovely, and her “Why didn’t you tell me!” line towards her mother is wonderfully executed.

Eryn Murman managed to make the opening of the show unforgettable, and so it might be for that reason I am so easy to praise her. Her rendition of “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Mama Who Bore Me (reprise)” really got the entire show ready to be entertained. Her vocals were perfectly supported and had a wonderful tonal quality.

Christine Estabrook who plays “The Adult Women” should win an award. She manages not only to entertain the actors, who have seen the show a million times, but the audience as well. Each of the adult women has a posture, a voice, a personality, and they are wonderful to behold.

and finally, I feel that I save the best for last when I describe Emma Hunton as Ilse. Emma’s Ilse is perfect. Her voice is not only perfectly on pitch but it seems to flood throughout the room. It captivates you into looking at only her, and your ears itch to hear more once she is done. I cannot commend her performance enough. I remember my heart sank when I saw Jenna Ushkowitz understudy the role last Saturday. Ushkowitz was great, but Emma Hunton is able to make Ilse touch each audience member just as she touches each character in the cast. I hope she will do a recording as I think she is better than the original.

Bottom line!? GO SEE SPRING AWAKENING!