Spring Awakening and the Evolution of the Language of Theatre

Originally staged in 2006, Spring Awakening is actually based on a 19th century play of the same name. From that base, Duncan Sheik created a rock opera about the struggles of 19th century German teens which rang true enough with modern audiences to garner 11 Tony nominations. This time around it’s only received 3. So what sparked this re-staging, and how does a critically acclaimed revival get so little attention from the Tony Awards?

Deaf West, the company who revived Spring Awakening, is housed in San Francisco, and their mission is directly attached to their name. Composed primarily of actors who are deaf or hearing impaired, Deaf West incorporates American Sign Language into their performances. Michael Arden (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Bare, Big River) felt that at it’s heart, Spring Awakening was about the dangers of miscommunication. Much of the conflict in the script is due to the divide between the struggling teens and the adults who refuse to listen.

Michael Arden and Deaf West felt that what better way to intensify that gap than to layer in a language divide between the characters?

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The revival of Spring Awakening features 8 deaf actors, 8 hearing actors, and 7 on-stage musicians. Every line of dialogue and lyrics are accompanied by American Sign Language. But how does this affect audience members who do not understand the language?

It’s a simple concept, and yet fits in another layer of metaphor: every deaf actor also has a “voice”, who is an on-stage musician. The hearing actor speaks and sings for the deaf actor while they sign.

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Wendla Bergman (Sandra Mae Frank) and her “voice” (Katie Boeck).

While this may sound somewhat chaotic, it intensifies the feelings of Moritz and Wendla, both played by deaf actors. They, most of all, feel lost, and though Wendla can sign to her mother and her mother can sign back, there is still a disconnect between parent and child. In the opening scene as Wendla’s mother struggles to explain to Wendla where babies truly come from, Wendla looks to her “voice” actor to help her make her mother understand her desire for knowledge and maturity. The audience grasps immediately this lack of communication will lead to conflict down the line.

The only actor of the company who does not use sign language in any fashion is the headmaster of the boys school. His lines of dialogue are projected onto the chalkboard instead. The reason for his lack of conformity becomes clear- he attempts to mold the boys into the school’s version of adept students and adults, with no room for deviation.

Watch a trailer for the revival opening: HERE

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This revival is the first to feature deaf actors on the Broadway stage, as well as a cast member who utilizes a wheelchair (not hearing impaired). Michael Arden has been nominated for Best Director, and the production itself has garnered a Best Revival of a Musical nomination. So why has it missed so many potential nominations?

Opinions are splintered, but the leading thought is that it’s due to the 2015-2016 season was absolutely flooded with new productions. And this is true- only 5 out of the potential 16 eligible musicals were revivals this season.

So many have asked, was Spring Awakening simply overpowered by the bombshells of Hamilton and Shuffle Along? Or did critics simply like the original staging more?

If the former is true, it once again raises the question of just how many of the award categories need to be separate? As it stands currently aside from the separations of play and musical, only Best Musical/Best Revival of a Musical are separate. The trend in recent years has seen the nominations swing in the direction of the majority, either revivals or originals. The work it takes to produce and original show vs. a revival contain far different components, so maybe it’s time for the administration committee to ask themselves why they largely compete for the same awards?

Finally, if the latter is true, then once again the opinion of the public and the critics are split. Audiences saw to it that this production of Spring Awakening was highly profitable, so much so that a National Tour has been announced for 2017. So it seems that the audience’s opinion is currently the one that matters.

MITM Musings: So which line of thought do you think is the most valid? And if you had the chance, would you like to see a Deaf West performance?

 

Tony Nominations: Part 2

And now for the nominated musicals! Rather than wait until our final count, it deserves to be said now that we have a record-breaking season on our hands. Hamilton  has received 16 nominations in 13 categories, making it the first show since The Producers in 2001 and Billy Elliot the Musical in 2009 to earn more than 13 nominations.

The Producers still holds the record for most Tony wins, with 12, making it one of the very few musicals to win every category it was nominated in, and the only to sweep wins all available musical categories. Will Hamilton be on track to break this record as well?

Best Musical:

Bright Star                                                         Hamilton

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School of Rock-The Musical                           Shuffle Along

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Waitress

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Best Revival of a Musical:

The Color Purple                                            Fiddler On The Roof

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She Loves Me                                                  Spring Awakening

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Best Book of a Musical:

Bright Star-
Steve Martin

Hamilton-
Lin-Manuel Miranda

School of Rock-
Julians Fellows

Shuffle Along-
George C. Wolfe

 

Best Original Score:

Bright Star-
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell

Hamilton-
Lin-Manuel Miranda

School of Rock-
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater

Waitress-
Sara Bareilles

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical:

School of Rock-
Alex Brightman

Fiddler on the Roof-
Danny Burstein

She Loves Me-
Zachary Levi

Hamilton-
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Hamilton-
Leslie Odom Jr.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:

She Loves Me-
Laura Benanti

Bright Star-
Carmen Cusack

The Color Purple-
Cynthia Erivo

Waitress-
Jessie Mueller

Hamilton-
Phillipa Soo

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical:

Hamilton-
Daveed Diggs

Hamilton-
Jonathan Groff

Hamilton-
Christopher Jackson

Shuffle Along-
Brandon Victor Dixon

Waitress-
Christopher Fitzgerald

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical:

The Color Purple-
Danielle Brooks

Hamilton-
Renee Elise Goldsberry

She Loves Me-
Jane Krakowski

Disaster! The Musical-
Jennifer Simard

Shuffle Along-
Adrienne Warren

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical:

American Psycho-
Es Devlin and Finn Ross

Hamilton-
David Korins

Shuffle Along-
Santo Loquasto

She Loves Me-
David Rockwell

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical:

Tuck Everlasting-
Gregg Barnes

She Loves Me-
Jeff Mahshie

Shuffle Along-
Ann Roth

Hamilton-
Paul Tazewell

 

Best Lighting Design of a Musical:

Hamilton-
Howell Binkley

Shuffle Along-
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhaur

Spring Awakening-
Ben Stanton

American Psycho-
Justin Townsend

 

Best Direction of a Musical:

Spring Awakening-
Michael Arden

The Color Purple-
John Doyle

She Loves Me-
Scott Ellis

Hamilton-
Thomas Kail

Shuffle Along-
George C. Wolfe

 

Best Choreography:

Hamilton-
Andy Blankenbuehler

Shuffle Along-
Savion Glover

Fiddler on the Roof-
Hofesh Shechter

Dames at Sea-
Randy Skinner

On Your Feet!-
Sergio Trujillo

 

Best Orchestrations:

Bright Star-
August Erikmoen

She Loves Me-
Larry Hochman

Hamilton-
Alex Lacamoire

Shuffle Along-
Daryl Waters

 


 

Final Count

Most nominations: 16- Hamilton (in 13 categories)

10- Shuffle Along

8- She Loves

5- Bright Star

Eligible Musicals with no nominations:

  • Allegiance
  • Amazing Grace

Eligible Musicals with only 1 nomination:

  • Disaster! The Musical
  • On Your Feet!
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Dames At Sea

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