Why I’m producing Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway.

You know me . . . I’m an analysis guy.

Before I make a decision, I do research, study charts, and conduct focus groups.  Heck, I even dial test.

And despite my innate desire for copious amounts of due diligence before I make any decision (it took me eight years to decide I wanted to marry the most perfect girl on the planet), it took me about seven seconds after the curtain went up on the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening before I decided I wanted to bring it to Broadway.

But wait . . . let me start at the beginning (I’m already getting too excited).

Like most theatergoers out there, I was a big fan of the original production, seeing it about a dozen times.  It became that show . . . you know, the one I told friends they had to see when they visited from out of town (and I was happy to volunteer to go with them).  It was never what they were expecting (especially my conservative high school buddy from Oklahoma), and it always, always blew them away.  “I didn’t know Broadway could do that,” was what I heard the most.

And I always felt like the show left us a bit too soon for a Tony Award-winning Best Musical, having closed in January, 2009 (can you say “financial crisis”?).

That’s why I was so excited when my good friend, and now Co-Producer, Cody Lassen, told me he was helping Deaf West, the innovative West Coast theater company, move their recent production of the show from a 99 seat space to the bigger Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills, in the hopes of some kind of bigger, commercial life.

See, also like most theatergoers out there, I was a big fan of Deaf West, having seen their ground breaking Big River, and also their Pippin.  As you probably know, Deaf West specializes in a unique brand of theater that fuses hearing and hard of hearing artists in productions that are sung, spoken, signed and captioned in the most creative ways.  And thanks to the mission established by founder Ed Waterstreet, and under the tenacious leadership of David “DJ” Kurs, Deaf West doesn’t just produce great deaf theater.  They produce great theater.  Period.

And now they were doing Spring Awakening.

So Cody set me up with a ticket to the LA production, and just three weeks ago, I settled in my (very comfortable) Wallis Center seat and prepared myself for one of my favorite shows.

The lights went down . . . and I heard those opening aching Duncan Sheik strains of “Mama Who Bore Me” as the character of Wendla stepped forward to sing.

And then she didn’t.

Instead, she signed those heartbreaking Steven Sater lyrics, as another actress sang them from the darkness, like we were hearing the private and deep desires of a young woman that no one else could hear.

It was chilling.

And in those seven seconds I realized that there was no other show that better served Deaf West’s unique form of expression than Spring Awakening. 

See, I’ve always thought that Spring was about a group of kids who no one would listen to . . . as is if they had no voice.  No matter what they said, or did, they just weren’t heard.  By anyone.

Now . . . for a moment, imagine that story told through song and sign . . . by a cast that includes deaf and hard of hearing performers.

For the the next two hours and fifteen minutes,  I was taken on this wonderful journey, re-experiencing a show that I thought I knew so well.  It was like reading a book that I had read several times before, but this time . . . it had larger print.  The themes were richer.  The subtleties more apparent.  And I was able to experience it in a way that I had never imagined, thanks to the nuanced hand of actor-soon-to-be-sought-after-director Michael Arden (yeah, that Michael Arden, who you’ve had a talent crush on ever since his Bare days).  And if Michael’s work wasn’t enough, there was Spencer Liff’s choreography, which seemed to be a language of its own, communicating so much, with so little.

So I’m moving it to Broadway, as last week’s leaks indicated (you try to produce a Broadway show these days without someone finding out about it!), for a limited run of 18 weeks only.  Yeah, that’s right, I’m doing something that hasn’t been done since the Angela Lansbury Gypsy in the 70s.  I’m producing a limited run commercial revival of a musical.

And no, this isn’t your usual “18 weeks only until I extend it for 12 more weeks” language.  I mean 18 weeks only.  No marketing B.S.  There is a show that’s coming into the Brooks Atkinson right on our heels.  Let the countdown begin.

Honestly, it’s super economically challenging, as you can probably imagine.  But you know me, I love a challenge.  And I owe everyone involved, from the advertisers to the production managers to the theater owners and agents and lawyers and so on, for saying, “We’re in.  We’re going to figure out how to do this.  Because this has to happen.”

Previews start nine weeks from tonight on September 8th.  We open on September 27th.  And we close on January 9th.

Come see it.  You’ll never have seen anything like it.

And after, I guarantee you’ll be the one saying, “I didn’t know Broadway could do that.”

Get tickets here.

And to watch a video of the LA production and to hear Deaf West Artistic Director DJ Kurs talk about the production click here.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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Did you enjoy this post? Then head on over to my one on one podcasts with Michael Arden and Spencer Liff to hear about their experiences working on Spring Awakening, and more!

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Comments
  • Liz says:

    I was a huge fan of Spring Awakening on Broadway, and I saw both incarnations of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening — in fact, I was a Kickstarter supporter of the 99-seat theatre show. I sincerely hope you’re planning on keeping as much of this stellar cast as possible, especially Sandra Mae Frank as Wendla, Austin McKenzie as Melchior, and Daniel N. Durant as Moritz.

    Congrats, Ken. Hope to make it to NY to see the limited run!

  • I’m so excited this is coming to Broadway…I’ve wanted to see this production since I first heard about it. It sounds creative and energized and intriguing – everything I loved about the Broadway production on steroids!

    Congrats and much leg breaking for a huge success!

  • Reva Solomon says:

    Ken – i’m thrilled that you are taking this amazing production to Broadway! I had no idea your love for the show, but when I saw it posted that you were coming to LA to see it, I had a feeling that we would see an announcement like this! I saw the show at the Wallis and was also hooked in the first seven seconds… The show has stayed with me ever since I left the theatre… It is a brilliant production that deserves your special producing hand and a run on Broadway… Can’t wait to see it again in NYC! Bravo!

  • Such a wonderful idea and phenomenal push for the modern theatre! I have so many friends that sign and are partially, if not, completely deaf. Thank you so Deaf West for always incorporating their stories into your works!

    To think about the show, this is not only a different take on the original production, but also a raising of the stakes where those involved cannot emotionally nor physically hear those around them. Beautiful concept!

  • Stephen Hurwitz says:

    I’m predicting a best revival Tony next year. Break fingers!!

  • Ken, thank you. This is an absolutely incredible and deserving production, and there couldn’t be a better or more significant time for a show that started in Los Angeles’ Intimate Theatre scene under the besieged 99-Seat Plan to find such success. Thank you again, and break a leg!

  • William Frank says:

    We made the trip from Kentucky to see the show in the first run and was amazed by what we saw. We were unable to return for the performance at the Wallis so we are very thrilled to have the chance to see it again as it makes its way to Broadway. we will be there opening night. Thank you for bringing forth an incredible show and i agree with stephen hurwitz. here comes a Tony

  • Glenn says:

    This is so fantastic. I’ve heard so much about the Deaf West production. What a great way to showcase their talents.

  • Kyle says:

    Thank you for producing this!

  • Lorraine says:

    You are an important pacesetter in the industry. Very cool!

  • I saw the show at the Wallis and my companions and I could not imagine it without all the aspects that Deaf West brought to it. Very glad you’re bringing it to New York!

  • Sally Slocum says:

    I saw it in the first incarnation in the 99 seat house and when I talked about it with friends I tried to express what it did to the story. I didn’t have the words right but you said it perfectly. Such a strong story to begin with but so much more with this production and the deaf community. Thank you for giving it more life – it (and the Deaf West Theatre Company) deserve it. I hope that I make it to NYC to see it again, but if I don’t I know that someone else will be experiencing this powerful beautiful story!

  • Ed Katz says:

    Looking forward to seeing it, Ken!
    Congratulations- sounds even better than the original…which is really saying a lot!

  • Rainer says:

    Wow. You wetted my appetite. I have never considered flying to NYC to see a show. But this time I am.

    (from Bremen, Germany)

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