FRENCHIE DAVIS TAKES “THE VIEW UPSTAIRS”

FRENCHIE DAVIS IS NOT AFRAID TO GET PERSONAL.

The View UpstairsIn The View UpStairs, a provocative new off-Broadway musical set in 1970’s New Orleans, Davis plays the owner of the gay bar where the show takes place. Directed by Scott Ebersold and with music, book and lyrics by Max Vernon, The View UpStairs tells a poignant tale that not only examines the past, but explores how the lessons learned then can guide us in the fight for equality that still persists today.

Frenchie DavisDavis herself is bisexual and has deep family connections to The Big Easy. In her quest to bring The View UpStairs to life, she felt inspired by her own history to inform who her character is and why this story is so important for contemporary audiences. We spoke in detail about this journey, the role of art in today’s world, her days as a contestant on both American Idol and The Voice, and much more.

NAGORSKI: What has been the most exciting part about returning to the New Year theater scene?

DAVIS: The most exciting part of all of this, I think, has been being able to bring the character, Henri, to life and being able to be a part of telling this story.

The View UpStairs is inspired by one of the most significant yet all-but-ignored attacks against the LGBTQ community. As an LGBT woman yourself, you’ve been a vocal advocate for the community throughout your career. Is this what attracted you to this show?

Partially. I was attracted to this show because I thought the storytelling was witty and beautiful.  I believed that this is such an important piece of our history and was really honored to have been considered for it.

The View UpStairsHow does Henri differ from other characters you’ve played on stage?

Well, she’s this no-nonsense, leather-wearing black motorcycle lesbian running a gay bar in the South in the 70s. Let’s start there! But underneath all of that tough exterior, she’s vulnerable and she loves very deeply the community of people who frequent the lounge.

What do you think audience members can learn from The View UpStairs about the fight for equality today?

So much of the dialogue in the show reminds me that even though it may often feel like we haven’t progressed at all, we have actually come a long way. We have a loooooooong way to go, but we have progressed and we should never take for granted the sacrifices those before us have made to ensure that progress.

The View UpStairs takes place in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Have you ever been to New Orleans? If so, how did that experience inform your interpretation of your character/this show?

Yes, I travel to New Orleans often actually. I have family there and it is a place of such rich history. It’s the birthplace of jazz! It’s the only place where slaves were allowed to maintain and practice many of the cultural traditions they carried with them from West Africa. My grandmother got her doctorate in pharmacy in New Orleans! It was the closest city to her hometown where a black woman would have even been allowed to obtain a degree in any medical field.

So I carry all of that with me in bringing Henri to life. Yes, on the surface, the upstairs lounge is a shitty hole-in-the-wall gay bar. But for Henri, it’s a home. It’s a place she takes a tremendous amount of pride in. She’s a black lesbian in the south in the 70s, and yet here she is, running this business and using it as a safe haven for her LGBT brothers and sisters. These are the types of things that helped me to interpret the character of Henri and the show in its entirety.

As a vocalist, what are the most challenging aspects of singing Max Vernon’s score?

Belting F sharps!

Fashion plays a large part in this show as well. Do you have a favorite costume or look that you get to wear?

Well, Henri’s wardrobe is nothing like the stuff I like to wear. Although I have become a fan of the skinny black Levi 512s she wears. I can’t breathe! But I look good!

The show spans two generations of queer history. Who are some historic figures that have influenced you in your personal life?

Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Hattie McDaniel, and Bessie Smith to name a few.

 The View UpStairs runs through May 21. Do you already have a sense of where your fans can catch you next after this show wraps?

Probably singing at Pride festivals and doing my cabaret act at various performance spaces across the country.

Simply speaking as a theater fan, what’s your favorite show currently playing on Broadway?

That’s impossible to answer! I love so many of them. All for different reasons.

You’ve been a part of several iconic musicals, including RentDreamgirls and Cinderella. What is your musical theater dream role?

Oh my god, Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show!

As someone who competed on both American Idol and The Voice, which show do you think shaped who you are as a performer more?

Neither of them shaped me as a performer. I was on TV for five minutes. I’ve been doing professional theater for fifteen years.

In 2012, you released your debut solo single, “Love’s Got A Hold On Me,” which went on to peak at #12 on the Billboard Dance Chart. Do you have any plans to release any other new solo music anytime soon? If so, do you plan to continue releasing dance music or are there other genres you’d like to tackle as well?

Well, I will always continue to do dance music. But I would love to do some ‘30s jazz/songbook stuff, as well as some soulful pop stuff. I also love trap music!

You’ve got two new movies coming out this year – We Are Family and Snapshots. As an actress, do you feel more drawn to the stage or to the screen? Why?

We Are Family! Oh my god, I filmed that like 7 years ago! I love both but theater is my first love. It’s what made me want to be a performer in the first place.

As a nation, we are going through some horribly dark, terrifying and divided times. What do you think the role of art is (or should be) as a form of making people feel safer and bringing them together? In other words, do you believe that art has a duty beyond escapism?

Art has always had a duty beyond escapism. I think that it is my responsibility as an artist, particularly as a queer artist of color, to use whatever platform I have to be a voice for justice and equality.

What’s your favorite thing to do to unwind after a show?

I love to come home after a show and listen to my ‘30s/’40s Jazz music playlist while engaging in herbal refreshments or alcohol drinking. Or both!


Click HERE to purchase your tickets for The View UpStairs, now playing at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre in New York City through May 21st.


Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING “NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812” WITH STAR GRACE MCLEAN

Grace McLean

THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE IS CONQUERING BROADWAY.

Later this season, audiences will be invited to journey to the past with the opening of Anastasia, a story based on the 1997 animated film about the last surviving Romanov. But for those looking to explore this era of history through a grittier, sexier, and more unconventional lens, they need not look further than the Imperial Theater.

Now playing there, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a breathtaking and electrifying new musical inspired by a 70-page portion of Leo Tolstoy’s seminal literary masterpiece, War and Peace. Taking a page from more than just Tolstoy, however, this innovative production blends various musical genres, creates a distinct and remarkable ambiance, and demands that its audiences have a theatrical experience unlike any other.

Written by Dave Malloy, The Great Comet tells the story of Natasha (Denée Benton), a young woman who begins an affair with a hedonistic rebel while her fiancée is off at war. When Natasha comes to Moscow, she and her cousin stay with Marya (Grace McLean), a grand dame who commands who’s who within her aristocratic circle. Meanwhile, a man named Pierre (Josh Groban) seeks answers for the existential crisis he faces while he watches Natasha’s new romance flourish.

McLean spoke with me about this ambitious and unique show, its journey to Broadway, interacting with audiences in unprecedented ways, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: As Natasha’s godmother and one of Pierre’s oldest friends, Marya provides a central link between the two titular characters. How do you think her relationship with each of them informs and/or defines the journey they each take during the show?

GRACE MCLEAN: Marya is called a “dragon woman” in the book, and I think this tells us a lot about who she is and what she expects of people. She’s strong-willed and fierce, she loves hard, and she despises laziness of mind, heart, and intention. She loves Natasha because she sees this same fierceness in her, and she loves Pierre because of his lack of pretension. At the point in the story when our show takes place, it is ultimately the clash of ferocities between Marya and Natasha that pushes Natasha over the edge. As for Pierre, I think Marya is there to pull him out of the stupor he’s found himself in and to give him a real call to action – something he feels he’s lost touch with at the start of our play.

You’ve been with this show for several years now, from Off-Broadway to the out-of-town run (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) to Broadway. In your opinion, how has the show evolved throughout its various incarnations?

It has been a real gift and a luxury to be able to work on this show in its various incarnations because although the story itself is largely unchanged, we’ve gotten to play with refinements and details in our storytelling. I think now, at The Imperial, we’ve achieved our greatest clarity in the storytelling because we’ve been able to experiment with ways to achieve both intimacy and a sense of grandness in the staging.

You provide much of the show’s comedic relief. What do you think it is about Marya’s personality and delivery that provides so much humor to otherwise serious and/or complex scenes?

First of all, thank you! I don’t think I approached Marya thinking of her as a funny character, but I think there is something about her severity which, in certain circumstances, comes off as comical simply because she’s in juxtaposition to other very tender and delicate moments. Of course, this severity becomes quite unfunny – or at least I hope it does – when circumstances get out of control. Marya doesn’t like being out of control.

How helpful was the original Tolstoy text when it came to fleshing out Marya and landing on your interpretation of who she is? Who/what else inspired your understanding of her?

It was definitely helpful to have an understanding of Marya within the text of War and Peace, to find out who she likes and why, how she operates within this decadent society, the kind of mother figure she is. Natasha’s mother is very different from Marya, her whole family is really, and I think Natasha needs an authority figure who delights in, fans, and hopefully shapes her fiery nature.

Also, in terms of inspiration, I think a lot about love in this play. There are a lot of different types of love flying around in our show. When I, Grace, can latch on to that, then I start to know what to do with my character. So for me, I’m thinking about deepening Marya’s love for Natasha because that says something about how she’s treated in the first act versus the second act, when Marya is still acting from a place of love – but of love betrayed.

The show’s set is quite possibly the most interesting I’ve ever seen. Without giving too much away, I can say that immediately upon stepping into the theater, the audience is fully transported to Imperial Russia. What do you think this unconventional staging adds to the experience of the show?

I think the audience is asked to step into the world of the play from the moment they step into the Imperial, even before the “set” is seen. It is a total experience, not one that the audience is necessarily asked to be an active part of, but this is what I love about the design- it’s that even in the audience’s passivity, an inescapable and palpable tone has been set to prime them for the story.

As an actress, what advantages and obstacles does performing on such a radically different and unique set present?

I don’t think in terms of disadvantages, so I’ll just talk a bit about the things it has taught me. I’ve had to really become aware of my whole body. Because the audience is all around, I think about finding ways to include everyone. There’s also an interesting game to play between giving something to someone a mile away, and sharing a little secret with someone else right next to you. This all requires great particularity and intention, because people can really see the fake or the phoned in when it’s up close.

The show allows for (and encourages) a good deal of actor interaction with the audience. What has been the most memorable encounter (either good or bad) you’ve had during a scene in which you engage directly with audience members?

Early on, during the off-Broadway run in the tent downtown, we got a lot of good lessons about unruly audiences. There was one night when a woman I was sitting with during “Pierre & Anatole” would not stop shaking her shaker. She was drunk and loud and talking to her friends. I took the shaker from her and she demanded I give it back, but of course I didn’t and kept watching the scene. She grabbed another shaker from one of her friends and shook it in my face. At this point I stood up and tried to take it from her again but she hung on very tight like she wanted to wrestle. Oy! This was a poor decision on my part because it just made both of us look like assholes. So lesson learned! Never get angry at the crazy because then you look crazy too.

Marya is a very fabulous woman who clearly has a penchant for fashion. What are some of your favorite costumes that you get to wear?

I love all of my costumes! They are so beautiful! But truly, my favorite piece is the little jacket I wear to the opera with the fox trimmed sleeves and neck. I want it for my life.

The show is filled with so many high-energy and visually spectacular musical numbers. Do you have a favorite to perform each night?

I wish I could watch them! But one of my favorite moments in the show happens in the middle of the opera right before Anatole makes his big entrance. We all have opera glasses and have been moving in slow motion before we all point our glasses at Natasha and sway in this slow eerie manner as the lights dazzle around her and slowly turn red. Basically, Natasha is getting high and I think this is the moment in the show when the audience feels it too, and can feel the palpable anticipation of something really different about to enter the world of the play.

The music combines so many genres – such as traditional Russian folk music, indie rock, and EDM just to name a few. Stylistically, how does singing this type of “electropop opera” differ from performing a more traditional musical theater score?

I have so much fun singing this music because it uses a lot of my range, not just in terms of notes on the page but stylistically. I get to use many sides of my voice, the rough, pretty, operatic, screlt, choral. And honestly because of the workout my voice is getting and the care required to be able to do all of those things, I’ve never felt healthier.

When you’re not performing in the show, you’re working on your own original music. Your band, Grace McLean & Them Apples, headlined Lincoln Center’s American Songbook in 2015 and 2016, and even toured Pakistan as U.S. State Department musical ambassadors. How do you find the balance between your acting career and being a singer/songwriter?

I find it necessary! I love that I have the opportunity to use my creative impulses critically in my own work because this allows me to approach the show with a fresh and present mind. Honestly, if I haven’t thought about or made other work before I go to the show, it’s harder for me to concentrate on the task at hand. Also, each informs the other. Performing my own music with my band in front of a very real, very present crowd prepared me to be able to perform in a show like this where the audience is very much a part of each moment. There is no fourth wall in a concert, nor is there one at The Great Comet. And I’m writing my own first full-length musical right now, so being inside of one gives me that extra perspective about how to approach character and storytelling, and about how to acknowledge my audience.

What do you find to be more creatively fulfilling – playing a character on stage or expressing yourself through your own original music?

Both are useful in different ways- writing is an outlet for my obsessions, and performing a role is an opportunity to learn about someone else’s.

What is your Broadway dream role?

Fanny Brice in Funny Girl!


Click HERE to purchase tickets to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, playing now at the Imperial Theater in New York City.

Click HERE to purchase The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this acclaimed musical.

PHOTOS | CHAD BATKA

 Originally published on PopBytes

QUICK PICK: “THE WOODSMAN” AT NEW WORLD STAGES

Ever since Judy Garland clicked her ruby slippers three times, audiences worldwide have been clamoring to return to the magical land of Oz.

The WoodsmanBased on the beloved classic novels by L. Frank Baum, Oz has been revisited in practically every creative medium imaginable. Films like Journey Back to Oz, Oz The Great and Powerful and Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return are just a sampling of the many motion picture follow-ups that have been released since The Wizard of Oz debuted in 1939. Television specials like Return to Oz, Tin Man, and The Witches of Oz continued to navigate the mythology in vastly different styles, as have countless books, comics, and video games.

On stage, Oz has also been revisited in various incarnations. Based on Gregory Maguire’s series of novels, Wicked is the blockbuster musical that pulls back the Emerald Curtain on the secret backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West. Now starring two-time Tony Award-winner Judy Kaye, Wicked is a testament to the enduring legacy of the world Baum created so many years ago. The musical, which opened in 2003, just surpassed Rent to become the 10th longest-running show in Broadway history. The current national tour of The Wizard of Oz is an adaptation of the classic film, injected with new songs by the powerhouse collaborative efforts of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. And, of course, who could forget NBC’s spectacular live broadcast of The Wiz this past December?

So since Oz is such a frequently explored place in our pop culture, it may seem a difficult task to create a piece of art that shows it to us through a truly fresh and innovative new lens. But James Ortiz, the creator, star, and co-director of The Woodsman, was more than up for the challenge. And the result paid off beautifully.

The WoodsmanNow playing off-Broadway at New World Stages,The Woodsman is a breathtaking and unique look at the Tin Man. Told mostly through gorgeous puppetry and accompanied by haunting original music by Edward W. Hardy, the intimately presented origin story of the most beloved heartless man in Oz is a striking piece of work.

Following its critically revered and sold-out engagements at 59E59 Theaters, The Woodsman chronicles the harrowing journey of a man who both literally and figuratively loses his heart when the life he has created with the woman he loves is ripped away from him by the evil Wicked Witch. With hardly any dialogue, the story unfolds through movement, allowing the puppets to convey the narrative in revelatory ways.

“Often puppetry is used as an effect or like a trick. But could we actually express complicated feelings without words? That was the challenge,” Ortiz told Playbill. Discussing the frail appearance of the puppet once the transformation into the Tin Man is complete, he added: “It was important for me that he be fragile in appearance. His earlier form is a very sensitive young man who is in the midst of trying to figure out what’s best for the person he loves. It was important that he had a fragility that could also be reflected in this other version of him.”

With an eerie set that complements the dark and melancholy tone of the show, The Woodsman is a daring, unprecedented, stunning, and completely unmissable twist on Oz folklore. It is sure to shock, awe, dazzle, and inspire you.

FOR TICKETS VISIT THEWOODSMANPLAY.COM

Originally published on PopBytes

SCHOOL OF ROCK: THE EPIC COMEBACK OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER

There was a time when Andrew Lloyd Webber was unstoppable.

The prolific musical theater composer is, after all, responsible for some of the most beloved and commercially successful shows of all time – including (but not limited to) Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Sunset Boulevard. Yet despite his impressive, divergent, and cherished repertoire, it’s been quite a number of years since Webber has achieved the kind of critical and box office success that was once synonymous with his name. His more recent efforts, such as The Woman In White and the long-gestating Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, had fans and critics speculating whether Webber had lost his creative touch. They feared that he would never recapture the magic of his earlier work.

But now Webber is proving them wrong. With his School of Rock, he has created a new triumphant blockbuster that showcases the talent that made him so beloved. With a masterfully (and infectiously catchy) rock-infused score, this new musical finds Webber brilliantly contemporizing the sound that made him into a living legend. Once again, he has become the role model for any aspiring composer, performer or impresario.

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Now playing on Broadway, School of Rock is based on the 2003 Jack Black film of the same name. Directed by Laurence Connor (Les Miserables) and with a book by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, the comical musical tells the story of Dewey, a struggling musician who secretly takes on his roommate’s identity to accept a position as a substitute teacher at an elite private elementary school. At first, he is simply interested in collecting a paycheck, but then Dewey discovers the astounding musical talent of the kids in his classroom. Enlisting the help of these students, Dewey forms a new rock group to help him exact revenge against his former band members who kicked him out – by showing them up at a local Battle of the Bands competition.

With this new goal in mind, Dewey teaches his students all about the rock greats. He encourages them to listen to artists like Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin to hone their understanding of their individual skills, making that their homework assignment. As the students respond to Dewey’s teaching methods, they visibly mature, awakening their senses of self-expression and building their self-confidence. While their parents aren’t always on board, the kids realize that through hard work and music, no dream is unobtainable.

A true star is born in Alex Brightman, who plays Dewey with ferocious stamina and meticulous comedic timing. His humor instincts are, unsurprisingly, very reminiscent of Black’s, but in a far more likeable and less doofy way. Vocally, he’s a powerhouse who can somehow manage to jump around the whole stage while seamlessly turning his screaming into impressive riffs and stretched out notes. His voice is the perfect marriage between a classically trained performer and a gritty rock star, and he can go from one end of that spectrum to the other with what sounds like effortless conviction. Brightman’s commanding blend of these two genres makes him the ideal candidate to tackle Webber’s score; it also makes his frenetic and dedicated performance one of the very best this Broadway season.

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Not surprisingly, Webber has found a contemporary muse in Sierra Boggess. Collaborating on their third musical together, the immensely talented soprano has a long history of playing Phantom of the Operaleading lady Christine Daaé. Not only did she originate the role in the West End production of Love Never Dies, Boggess also played the character in Phantom on Broadway on several occasions, originated the role in the Las Vegas production, and starred in the show’s 25th anniversary concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, resulting in the greatest recording of the musical to date.

This time around, Boggess plays Principal Rosalie Mullins, whose journey in the show transforms her from an uptight, rule-enforcing type-A authority figure to someone who literally lets her hair down and channels her inner Stevie Nicks in the name of rock. Although Webber’s score doesn’t call for Boggess to belt her face off in the way she was born to do (seriously, listen to her sing “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid), her big solo, “Where Did The Rock Go,” is a powerful ballad that beautifully juxtaposes the energetic rock numbers the show is primarily consisted of.

“Obviously you’re in really good hands if you’re doing a show written by him. I feel very lucky — he started my career, really, with Phantom in Las Vegas and then continued on with many different versions of Phantom,” Boggess told AMNY. “I feel like how he writes is where I want to sing. And at this point, he knows me very well and he knows my voice and he wanted to be able to showcase many different parts of my voice. And he knows me as a funny person, too, and he wanted to showcase that stuff. So, it was very nice coming into this production with him where we weren’t doing the show where someone’s going to die or it’s terribly sad.”

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While Brightman and Boggess are tremendous forces to be reckoned with, the real highlights of the show are the children. Playing all of their instruments live on stage throughout the entire production, these young actors and actresses are already scene-stealers. They also sing and dance, while performing with enough virtuosity to be regarded as musical prodigies with their respective instruments.

For 12-year-old School of Rock super fan Brandon Niederhauer, getting a chance to play lead guitarist Zach is a dream come true. “Zach was obviously my favorite character and that’s what got me into playing guitar, and the movie came out the year I was born,” he told Newsweek. “And now a couple of years later, I tried out for School of Rock the musical and I got it, and I don’t know what’s more ironic than that?”

While School of Rock is the perfect show for children, it’s certainly not just a show for kids. Adults will undoubtedly enjoy it just as much, if not more, than the young audience members. It ticks off all the boxes to be a smash, and anyone in attendance will leave with a smile on their face, regardless of their age. It’s a heartwarming story that is performed and put together with exorbitant talent from top to bottom, making for a show that will surely become a Broadway staple for many years to come.

School of Rock is playing now at NYC’s Winter Garden Theatre. Click here to purchase tickets.

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Originally published on PopBytes

“SPRING AWAKENING” TAKES BROADWAY BY STORM AGAIN

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Six years after the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening took its final bow, the revolutionary rock musical has made an inspired return to the Great White Way for a stunning limited engagement.

Directed by Michael Arden, the new Spring Awakening first blossomed at the Deaf West Theatre Company in Los Angeles before transferring to New York. Featuring both hearing and non-hearing actors, this unique interpretation of the story is told not just through composer Duncan Sheik’s Tony Award-winning score, but also through American Sign Language. To accomplish this, some characters simultaneously sign and sing, while others are played by deaf actors who perform the songs using ASL and a second actor performs the songs vocally in tandem with his/her counterpart.

While the book and lyrics of the 2006 production remain unchanged, Arden’s vision for this revival pulls from the historical context of the 1880 Milan Conference, which passed a dictate that forbade sign language in European and American schools. Instead, deaf students were to be taught Oralism (lip reading, speech and mimicking mouth shapes). Not only does this added layer breathe new life into the beloved musical, it also remarkably manages to underline the harsh, bleak, and inhumane expectations and pressures placed on these characters – making their eventual breaking points all that more inevitable.

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Spring Awakening began as a controversial – and quickly banned – German play written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind. One hundred and fifteen years later, the musical adaptation debuted and has become a cultural phenomenon ever since. The story details what happens when a group of teenagers, all living in a supremely conservative German town, begin to unearth what sex is. Without the guidance of anyone willing to answer their questions, they embark on a quest to discover what sex means and feels like for themselves. Yet as they begin to do so, the ripple effect of this exploration shines a light on the dark underbelly of their community, and ultimately tears them apart as a result.

“Though much has changed since the time of Wedekind and the Milan Conference, we still live in a world where beliefs, cultures and individuals are silenced and marginalized,” Arden’s Director’s Note in the Playbill reads. “I am honored to continue the legacy of Deaf West, an organization dedicated to bridging cultures and shifting perceptions.”

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Where the 2006 production launched the careers of such big names as Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff, and John Gallagher, Jr., this iteration of Spring Awakening similarly introduces a cast of exorbitantly talented young actors poised to become breakout stars. As Melchior, Austin P. McKenzie is nothing short of fantastic in his theatrical and Broadway debut. The actor went to college to study special needs teaching and ASL interpretation before landing this coveted role. His Melchior becomes increasingly unhinged due to the lies he and his peers are fed before he demands to figure out the world on his own terms. And when he does, the consequences he faces are both profound and heart shattering.

3887Sandra Mae Frank’s consummate portrayal of Wendla is breathtaking from the moment she steps onto the stage with the opener “Mama Who Bore Me.” While she begins as too naïve and sheltered for her own good, Wendla’s journey matures her from a child to a woman, and Frank plays this in a striking way with cynosure stage presence. One of the deaf actors whose songs are sung by another actor (Katie Boeck), Frank’s portrayal of Wendla’s unquenchable pursuit for truth and feeling is a revelation. Her desperation and yearning is conveyed with so much passion and conviction that it would be an actual travesty for her to be overlooked at next summer’s Tony Awards.

Also featured in the cast are Smash star Andy Mientus, Arden’s real-life husband who was part of the first national tour of Spring Awakening, and Krysta Rodriguez, who was in that first national tour and is the only original Broadway cast member returning for this revival. Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) and Emmy and Golden Globe winner Camryn Manheim (The Practice; Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion) serve as the two adult female characters, while 28-year-old actress Ali Stroker, who plays Anna, is the first person in a wheelchair to ever appear on Broadway.

“I never saw anyone in a chair on Broadway,” Stoker told CBS News. “So I had this dream, and I wanted to make it happen. But no one had ever done it so there was a part of me that was like, okay I’m not gonna get my hopes up because maybe it’s not possible.” Yet Stoker’s dream not only came true, but she has made Broadway history and her story is just another example of the beauty of this revival.

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Throughout the show, the eight deaf cast members work together with the eight hearing actors to make sure that the ASL and songs are always in sync. From color coded stage lights to subtle gestures that act as cues, the production is laced from top to bottom with hidden stop and go marks so that nobody ever gets ahead of anyone else on stage.

“It can be a blink of an eye, a shrug of a shoulder, a tap of a leg – little ways we all know what we need to know,” deaf actress Treshelle Edmond (Martha) told The New York Times, explaining how she and Kathryn Gallagher, Martha’s singing and speaking voice, collaborate. Edmond went on to reveal that not only did she study the way that Gallagher’s mouth moved, she also “spent time holding Ms. Gallagher’s guitar as it was played, learning from vibration to understand her songs’ rhythm.”

With many of the speaking/singing actors often relegated to positions behind their deaf counterparts, the audience’s focus is undoubtedly on the sign language. Interwoven into Spencer Liff’s masterful choreography, the ASL gorgeously turns thisSpring Awakening into something truly novel on the Broadway stage. It enhances the story and its players in ways that make the show not just unmissable, but completely unforgettable.

Spring Awakening is now playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre through January 24, 2016. Click HERE to purchase tickets.

Originally published on PopBytes