‘Awakening’ to Tony Award Success

DJ Kurs didn’t fathom that his theater company’s reinvention of “Spring Awakening” would outlive its initial run in the intimate, 99-seat venue of Inner-City Arts’ Rosenthal Theater.
A couple of years and three Tony Award nominations later, it turns out that Kurs, the artistic director at Deaf West Theatre, underestimated the show. And what a fabulous thing that is!
“It has been a wonderful journey,” Kurs, a La Cañada Flintridge resident, said in an email. “It almost feels like a dream.”
The rock-infused musical needed help from the crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter to get off the ground, but it immediately opened to a warm reception from critics and fans.
Wrote L.A. Times critic F. Kathleen Foley: “It’s hard to enumerate all the ways in which the Deaf West’s ‘Awakening’ is so very, very good.”
Raved fans such as Katherine G. in an online review at show-score.com: “[See it if] you want to see a show that takes familiar material and reimagines it in a way that will absolutely blow your mind.”
As of Wednesday, its fans had again taken to Kickstarter to raise more than $201,911 to help fly in cast members from across the country to perform during the Tony ceremony Saturday, June 11, airing at 8 p.m. on CBS.
“This show had a tremendous fan base, the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” wrote Kurs, who is deaf. “And our cast thrived on all of the interaction with the fans over the various runs of the show.”
Deaf West Theatre has, since 1991, been pioneering opportunities for deaf actors and audiences to share theater experiences. “Spring Awakening” is the second of its productions to receive Tony consideration following “Big River,” which was nominated in 2001 for best musical.
This time, “Spring Awakening,” the intermodal rock-infused musical performed simultaneously in English and American Sign Language, is nominated for best revival of a musical, best direction and best lighting.
Despite the positive outpouring from the public, Kurs also managed to underestimate the show’s award potential.
“We thought that because our show faded into the sunset, we would not be remembered come Tony Award time,” he said.
So when the announcement came?
“It was an utter thrill,” he added. “The cast gathered for an early morning viewing party here in L.A. and we were jumping up and down and FaceTiming all of the people from New York.”
The show, which adapts a controversial late 19th-century play about growing up in a sexually repressive German culture, opened at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theater last September before concluding its limited engagement in January. There are plans for a national tour next year.
Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, another LCF resident, was among the 27 cast members so well received during the Broadway run. For most of the Broadway run, Matlin, who is deaf, played Frau Gabor — mother of the young protagonist, Melchior — as well as Frau Schmidt.
Kurs has lived in LCF for the past two years with his wife, Alice, and their children, Isabella, 6; Milo, 3; and Romy, 3 months.
He became Deaf West’s artistic director in March 2012, soon after which he co-produced “Cyrano.” As Deaf West’s artistic associate, he wrote and produced a multimedia show for young audiences titled “Aesop Who?” and then served as associate producer for Deaf West’s productions of “Children of a Lesser God,” “My Sister in This House” and “The Adventures of Pinocchio.”
“Spring Awakening” is another characteristically fresh take on a familiar story, but it’s one that especially resonates with America’s theater-going audiences.
By Kurs’ estimation, it won’t be the last of his theater’s productions to do so.
“We have developed a style of performance over the years that has resulted in two wonderful trips to Broadway,” Kurs wrote. “And we look forward to bringing more quality theatrical productions that are among the best that L.A. has to offer.”

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