Deaf West’s Spring Awakening: Closing Night on Broadway

This is not a review in the traditional sense, because I could never write a coherent review for this show. I have too much of an emotional connection to it, and this production has had too much of an impact on me for me to look at it from a critical perspective. So this is a disclaimer that this post will mostly be me raving about the show.

So, I had the immense opportunity to catch the very last performance of the Spring Awakening revival, and let me tell you, it was an incredible experience. I’d never before seen anything closing night on Broadway, and the energy was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I’m talking 5-minute bouts of applause after every number. The actors themselves were entirely bursting with energy onstage. I’d only seen this show once before, back in October, and while I had loved it then, this performance in particular blew me away.

What was really cool about this closing performance was that inevitably, the audience entirely consisted of pretty die-hard fans of the show. Which meant that there was huge applause anytime any of the memorable moments happened – Sean Grandillo’s Bobby Maler thing, Ali Stroker being Maria wheelin’, Alex Wyse’s “Touch Me” solo and Andy Mientus’s death drop. It was just totally wild.

It was also really interesting as an audience member who is fairly knowledgeable about this production and knowing it was the closing performance. I was trying to see absolutely everything, trying to catch every single detail in the show. Things like, the way Ernst stands with the girls during “The Dark I Know Well” while the guys are on the other side looking threatening. Or Austin McKenzie watching Wendla in a pretty creepy way during “Mama Who Bore Me”. Or Ernst lingering on the teddy bear when he helps Moritz pack up his stuff (yeah, I was pretty much watching Josh Castille as Ernst the whole time).

And then, there was the song “Totally Fucked”. Which totally f*cked me up. We’re talking show-stopping standing ovation at the end of the song, which was obviously well-deserved. Oh man, is that song well-placed, especially since I was bawling after “Left Behind”. You absolutely need this angry song after all the sadness to really get you going. It’s just this big release, and it feels SO GOOD.

After the show, Michael Arden made a speech, followed by Steven Sater. His speech in particular just made me completely lose it – he talked a lot about what Spring Awakening means to him personally, and I was entirely in tears, because he was describing pretty much exactly what it means to me. There’s some good footage of the speeches on YouTube, and you should definitely check it out.

That’s all I’m going to say for now. I could go on for ages about SA, but I’ll save that for future blog posts. If you don’t know this show, please, please check it out. The revival will be touring in the future, so watch out for that, too.

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In Defense of Bootlegs

GUEST POST: In Defense of Bootlegs originally appeared on NewMusicalTheatre.com on September 11, 2015.

Note: I wrote this article in response to a lot of blog posts and tweets bashing bootlegs last fall, and I wanted to put in my own two cents. NewMusicalTheatre.com was nice enough to publish my post. It’s one of my favourite theatre blogs; I definitely recommend you check them out!

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I do not in any way condone the filming of Broadway shows live onstage. But do I watch these bootlegs? Yes. I do. Moreover, I think the Broadway community as a whole often fails to mention the advantages of this practice. Bootlegs are not nearly as odious as certain articles make them out to be. These “dirty gems,” as one Broadway Tour article called them, can even be beneficial to the shows themselves.

I suppose it all comes down to exposure. One of the reasons why theatre is such a beloved art form is because it’s ephemeral. And the only way to properly experience this art form as it is meant to be experienced is in one single city. New York City. Its population – 8.34 million – is a lot of people. But that number isn’t even close to the number of theatre fans in the world. All those people want to see Broadway shows just as badly as the fans in New York. For many reasons, they can’t, and I find this extremely unfair. For the fans, of course, but also for the composers, playwrights, actors, and directors who miss out on all this exposure.

If there were a way for fans to watch a show that has come and gone on Broadway, to fall in love with the composer’s work or the director’s work or the actors’ work, wouldn’t they want to see a future show featuring these people and their art? I know I would. If you think about it, isn’t it better for a theatre fan to watch the cheap version of a show online (that in no way comes near the experience of seeing it live) than for them to not see it at all? If you look at it from an exposure-only perspective, the answer is clear.

One of the major arguments against bootlegs is that a person won’t want to pay to see a show live after having watched it online. Because they’ve already seen it in some way, the argument goes, we’re cheating all of the artists involved in a certain show out of their hard-earned money. I know firsthand that this is false.

First of all, seeing a musical or a play live is an incredible experience that is nothing like watching it from a shaky camera with lots of background noise. I know with certainty that I wouldn’t miss a beat in paying to see a professional production of my favourite musicals—especially if I’ve only ever watched it from one of these cameras. I will gladly pay to see it so that I can truly experience this show as it was meant to be. But I never would have fallen in love with these shows if I hadn’t seen the bootlegs first.

And what do I do when I fall in love with a musical? I buy the cast album. I order the merchandise online. I do everything short of actually seeing it (which I would do if I could), forking over as much money as I can to all the people who I’ve apparently stolen from when I clicked that lovely “play” button.

No particular production will last forever. They will disappear into the confines of the library of Lincoln Center, far from the reaches of us normal folk who could not afford a trip to New York at the right time. These productions deserve to live on, to be viewed by as many people as possible in as many places as possible. Besides, these shows are full of subtleties, and like I do with many good movies, I often want to see musicals I like over and over again until I know every line, every stage direction by heart. But for most people, doing so in a live setting is impossible.

I hear a lot of talk about the importance of representation and diversity when it comes to musical theatre. As the years go on, we’re seeing more and more characters of colour, characters in the LGBT+ community, and characters of different income levels. But by restricting accessibility to Broadway shows, we are decreasing the diversity of Broadway audiences. We are making theatre available to only a certain elite: often rich, white, straight people.

Yes, it’s against the law. Yes, it’s morally wrong to film shows live. But to only focus on the negative aspects of this practice would be to only tell one half of the story. It would be to ignore what is really important here: that fans out there are sharing their love of theatre with the world. If it weren’t for those fans, I wouldn’t be one myself.

BroadwayCon 2016!

Hey everyone! It’s time to get back to regularly updating this blog, so here I am.

I was lucky enough to be in New York City for the first ever BroadwayCon, a convention for all things Broadway. I just got back this morning at 3 am after an 8 1/2 hour bus ride, and I really wanted to share my experience with all of you!

I had a total blast. I went with two very good friends of mine, Daisy and Ale (funny enough, we actually met last October at the Hamilton CD signing – yeah, that was a good day, too). All right, here we go:

Friday

BroadwayCon was actually my first convention, and I was pretty nervous about it, because I don’t usually do well in large crowds. Luckily, I think I had too much fun to notice!

Highlights of Friday definitely included the Spring Awakening panel. SA is one of my favourite shows of all time, and this revival (which just closed Sunday night, and that I was lucky enough to catch) is probably my favourite production of all time. For those of you who don’t know, this revival involves both hearing and Deaf actors and is performed in both English and ASL. It’s truly gorgeous (Michael Arden seriously deserves the Tony for Best Director, although everything will be overshadowed by Hamilton this season…). The cast is absolutely lovely, and it was so nice to see them at the con.

There was a GREAT panel on queer women in theatre (a topic very close to me) led by Fredi Walker (Johanne in Rent), Roberta Colindrez (Joan in Fun Home), and Ariana Debose (Hamilton).

I was a little underwhelmed by the opening ceremony, but that may have been because I had sucky seats. I didn’t catch any of the cameos, and I didn’t even recognize Lesli Margherita, who was onstage for the majority of the time.

Luckily, the Rent panel to celebrate its 20th anniversary made up for all that. It was really emotional, as the cast members were talking about the late Jonathan Larson, who wrote the show. Anthony Rapp was especially emotional, as he was very close to Jonathan and had a huge part in running the convention. I really felt like that moment was history in the making.

Oh yeah, there was the Hamilton panel. Lin-Manuel Miranda freestyled onstage. It was rad.

Saturday

The day of the blizzard. It was a wild ride, because a lot of the stars who were supposed to show up never made it. I was really excited to meet Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, an amazing composer-lyricist team, but they never made it. I did get to meet Joe Iconis at the Songwriters on Songwriting panel, another musical composer I idolize, and that was incredible.

The Fun Home panel was also a highlight, mostly because of Emily Skeggs being adorable as always. It was also really cool to see Lisa Kron, lyricist and bookwriter, who is also one of my heroes.

Saturday was mostly the day of technical panels, so although I enjoyed it A LOT, there’s not a whole lot worth writing down. I learned about stage management, about production assistants, about less-successful shows and why they didn’t stick around on Broadway. Very cool stuff.

The day ended with an incredible performance by Krysta Rodriguez, who blew us all away with her unrehearsed songs. There was supposed to be a huge cabaret with lots of big names, but because of the storm, they couldn’t show up; it was amazing though, because Krysta took requests from the audience and the accompanist casually played along by looking up the songs on his iPad. There were a lot of crowd favourites (Safer, Breathe, and Blue Hair, which Joe Iconis played along to, of course). It was altogether a fantastic end to a fantastic day.

Sunday

Sunday was the shortest day, but it was still loads of fun! I started off the day with a panel about adapting movies/plays/books/etc. for the stage, which included Laurence O’Keefe, who’s written shows like Bat BoyLegally Blonde, and Heathers. Definitely a composer worth idolizing.

My favourite part of the day was the Smash panel, though. If you don’t know, Smash was a TV show from a couple of years ago about the making of Broadway musicals and featuring actual Broadway stars with songs by actual Broadway composers. It was a flawed show, but gosh darn it, it was fun. The season 2 producer led the panel, and he screened cut clips as well as shots from some of the coolest numbers from season 2, like “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” and “Public Relations”. I feel so lucky to have been there, because it was incredible, especially since he was adamant that none of these clips could be filmed by the audience. It was truly a one-time occasion.

BroadwayCon also gave us a taste of the upcoming Broadway season, with performances from the cast of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (a personal favourite of mine) and Tuck Everlasting.

Oh, and did I mention that Sara Bareilles showed up for the Waitress panel and did an impromptu performance of “She Used to Be Mine”? Crazy! The audience (including me) totally lost it.

All in all, it was an amazing, unforgettable weekend. The organizers did a great job of keeping the event running despite the storm, especially since it was the first ever convention of this kind. I think my favourite part of everything was that it gave me this sense that I belonged to the theatre community, and made it clear to me that I do have a place in it. It didn’t hurt that the weekend ended with the closing night performance of Spring Awakening, but that’s the subject of another blog post…

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I definitely recommend BroadwayCon if you are, like me, a theatre fan desperate to be in a giant room full of other theatre fans. It’s pricey, but it’s an unforgettable experience.

Have a great week!

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In other news, I’ve started a YouTube channel called DaniLearnsASL, where I post short, personal video clips to help me along as I learn American Sign Language. If it’s your thing, check it out!