In Song and Sign Language, ‘Spring Awakening’ Wages an Adolescent Assault on the ‘Parentocracy’

Spring Awakening is all about what repressed kids can’t say or do in a rigid society, but there’s a whole lot of self-expression going on in this new Broadway revival. The musical, with songs by Duncan Sheik, has made its way back to the boulevard courtesy of an unusual sponsor: Deaf West Theatre Company stages productions in sign language. Michael Arden’s staging operates for both deaf and hearing audiences simultaneously, with characters sometimes singing and sometimes signing, often shadowed by a performer who voices their thoughts. At times all this emotive activity crowds the stage — a gray industrial scaffold already populated with a large ensemble and rockers anachronistic to the nineteenth century — and a certain sense of superabundance results. For me, at least, it was hard to know where to look, and who was speaking.

[pullquote]Spring Awakening underlines adult hypocrisies and youngster angst with Duncan Sheik’s soulful melodies.[/pullquote]

But this adolescent assault on “the parentocracy” remains more or less intact. Inspired by Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist drama, Spring Awakening the musical underlines adult hypocrisies and youngster angst with Sheik’s soulful, moody melodies. In the hands of a capable young cast — including standouts Daniel N. Durant, Sandra Mae Frank, and Austin P. McKenzie (as a trio of troubled teens) — the drama pleads, in multiple languages, for more understanding. Tom Sellar

Spring Awakening
Book and lyrics by Steven Sater
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street

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