Thursday, 25 September 2014 05:56

Theatre Review - Spring Awakening

Written by Radomir Vojtech Luza, Theatre Critic
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Spring Awakening 3

If a play about the trials and tribulations of youth inspires and illuminates you, make sure not to miss Deaf West’s adaptation of the multiple Tony Award winning musical “Spring Awakening” performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and spoken English at Inner City Arts in Downtown Los Angeles through November 9th.

Featuring a cast of 25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing actors and musicians, this re-invention is a story of social, moral and sexual awakening on the scale of George Orwell’s “1984" or perhaps even more aptly, JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”

Based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play of the same name and containing an electrifying pop/rock score, this re-imagination of the story glides, moves and sashays like a romantic lover finding his or her way in a world made by adults for adults, a society where talent and sensitivity are too often discarded like week old garbage because they are misunderstood and a threat to the status quo.

Here, teachers and administrators are to be feared because they put technology ahead of humanity and true tenderness.

Wedekind’s bold message is echoed by Steven Sater’s book and lyrics. The language is highly original, descriptive and alive, taking us, the audience, on a journey through the looking glass of one teenager’s vivid and non-conformist landscape.

This rebel’s behavior is a high wire act that can go tragically wrong at any moment.

The powerful music of Duncan Sheik immerses and addresses at the same time. This is great opera or early Bob Dylan. But Sheik’s music has a rhythm and unmistakable ring to it that really make this show what it is: compelling, seemingly unrehearsed and wonderfully spontaneous.

The direction by Michael Arden is gentle, simple, smooth and oh, so visceral and visual. Yet, in the play’s quieter moments, it also allows the characters to be themselves: gloriously thought provoking and painstakingly authentic. This is no cartoon or sitcom, but a brilliantly directed anthem to the pain and paucity of adolescence.

The choreography by Spencer Liff is on the mark in both substance and style. It helps tell a story in dance that satisfies, satiates and helps the narrative flow.

Jared Stein’s musical direction is nothing less than inspired. No doubt emboldened by the gifted ensemble, Stein’s direction is to the point and without unnecessary froth. It hits its mark like a gold medal equestrian after a particularly difficult jump.

The talented cast makes a mark for itself that shall not be forgotten.

Stand-outs include Lauren Patten (Ilse) whose compassionate, tender and fierce portrayal breaks hearts on stage and off, and makes us, the audience, feel the true casualties and triumphs of love.

Joseph Haro (Hanschen) who defies the moral compass set by modern society and makes his own rules as he goes along. This is a definition making performance indeed. It questions today’s moral and spiritual mind set while entertaining and amusing at the same time. No simple task. The role requires an actor of great courage, skill and breath to fill in the blanks, and Haro is just such a performer.

But it is Austin McKenzie (Melchior) who steals the show. In a portrayal both parts mature and meticulous, McKenzie, who is acting in his first professional production and first theatrical performance since high school, is the lynchpin upon whom the play rests. His performance is remarkable in that it is inherently underscored by its character’s thoughts and feelings and what those bring to society and the world.

His character’s downward spiral, then, is genuinely and honestly echoed by this young, but wonderfully gifted and promising performer’s voice, body and being. This critic hopes to see McKenzie on the stages of Los Angeles again soon.

Aiding the message of the show are the shared scenic and costume design of Dane Laffrey and Christopher Scott Murillo, the lighting design of Travis Hagenbuch, the sound design of Philip G. Allen, the projection design of Brent Stewart and the hair design of Carol Doran.

All in all, Deaf West has pulled off another miracle as singing, speaking and signing make for a magnetic staging of a controversial play that resonates as loudly, if not more loudly, today than when it was written in the late 19th century.

The language, lyrics, music and performances are as turbulent as a tornado, yet as tranquil as a still pond. Time has infused the proceedings, and it is time that this unspeakably beautiful work of art serves in toil, tense, texture, temerity and torture.

Broadway is alive and well on Kohler Street.


Tues.-Sat.: 8pm
Sundays: 3pm
General Admission: $34
Students with valid ID: $30
(818) 762-2998
Rosenthal Theater
Inner City Arts
720 Kohler Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021

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