This morning, theater fans around the world rejoiced at the news that Spring Awakening is poised for a Broadway revival. First reported by Deadline, rumor is, the acclaimed production recently presented in Los Angeles by Deaf West Theatre and director Michael Arden’s Forest of Arden will transfer to Broadway this fall, as soon as producer Ken Davenport is able to secure a theater.
While many fans are ecstatic, others seem to think this revival is happening perhaps too soon, considering the original production, which won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical and launched the careers of Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr, Skylar Astin, and more, opened in 2006, just under a decade ago. This turnaround would be much quicker than that of most musical revivals, but there are a few important things to know about what would make this production very different from the Spring Awakening most fans know and love.
The Deaf West production is presented simultaneously in English and American Sign Language.
Deaf West is an LA-based theater company whose mission is to produce theater that is fully accessible to both communities. Their Spring Awakening has been produced twice in LA, first at Inner-City Arts’ 99-seat Rosenthal Theater in the fall of 2014 and more recently at the significantly larger 500-seat Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Both runs were critically acclaimed and financially successful, and there has been buzz about a possible NY transfer since the Annenberg run concluded less than a month ago.
The cast, which remained largely consistent for both runs, was comprised of half hearing actors and half deaf or hard-of-hearing actors. While every member of the cast used ASL, the characters portrayed by deaf actors (characters very intentionally chosen by Arden) were paired with a hearing actor who portrayed their “voice,” mirroring them, playing an instrument, singing the songs, and delivering the dialogue in English while their deaf counterpart did so in ASL. The production also featured new choreography by Spencer Liff, who seamlessly wove ASL into the movement to great effect.
This would not be the first time a Deaf West production transferred to Broadway.
Their acclaimed production of Big River opened on Broadway in 2003, where it ran for 28 previews and 67 performances. The role of Tom Sawyer was played by a young Michael Arden in his Broadway debut. About half the characters, including the leading role of Huck, were played by deaf or hard-of-hearing performers. All dialogue and lyrics in the production were both spoken or sung and signed, making the production equally accessible to hearing and deaf audiences. The character of Mark Twain (portrayed by Daniel H. Jenkins, who portrayed the role of Huck in the original Broadway cast) was expanded, so that that actor also provided the voice of Huck, portrayed by Tyrone Giordano, who is deaf. The production would be nominated for two Tony Awards and won a Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre.
Original Broadway cast member Krysta Rodriguez and 1st National Tour cast member Andy Mientus appeared in the most recent iteration.
Among the cast changes for the 2015 Annenberg production were the addition of two well-known Spring Awakening alums. Rodriguez, who was a swing in the original Broadway production, played Ilse, a role she used to understudy. Mientus reprised the role of Hanschen, which he previously played on the 1st National Tour. There is currently no news on casting for the potential Broadway production.
Michael Arden’s backstory for the concept is fascinating.
Back in September, Arden told Theatermania about his concept for the production, which he initially developed with Mientus, who happens to be his fiancé. He imagines this version of the small German town where the show takes place has been hit by an epidemic that left many people without hearing. What makes Spring Awakening different from Deaf West’s prior productions is that for the first time, the fact that some characters are deaf and some are hearing is commented on and incorporated into the plot. Moritz and Wendla are among the characters played by deaf actors, which adds even more depth to their already tragic arcs.
It would be Spring Awakening as you’ve never seen it before, in the best way possible.
I was fortunate enough to see both iterations of the Deaf West production in LA. Having seen the Broadway production and national tours around a dozen times combined over the years, I couldn’t believe how much this stunning iteration of the show opened my eyes to aspects of the story I’d never considered before. It truly felt like seeing it for the first time, which is impressive for a work I felt so familiar with. I have never believed Spring Awakening to be a perfect show as written, but this production succeeded in finding an answer for many of the moments I once found lacking in character development or depth. I truly believe this is Spring Awakening the way it was always meant to be staged, and I hope the Broadway transfer rumors are true so more audience members can experience its magic.