Talking with 'Spring Awakening's' Blake Bashoff
Blake Bashoff misses having normal hair.
He's been playing the lovable, desperate, hairstyle-challenged Moritz in the hit show "Spring Awakening" for over a year, first with the Broadway company and currently with the first touring production of the show. The role of Moritz is a meaty, emotional tour de force for an actor, but it also means that Bashoff must go through not one, but two extreme hairstyles over the course of the musical's two acts. And though Bashoff loves so many things about Moritz, he probably wishes that shampoo and conditioner were invented in late nineteenth century Germany.
Mortiz's hair is just one small component of "Spring Awakening's" edgy vision. The musical, based on Frank Wedekind's hugely-controversial late eighteenth century play, focuses on a group of adolescents learning about the stickier, ickier things in life. The children deal with sex, suicide, rape, abortion and so much more while singing rocking Duncan Shiek/Steven Sater songs. And while that combination doesn't scream crossover success, "Spring Awakening" won eight Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical.
The "Spring Awakening" touring production, along with Bashoff's hair care products, is housed in Cleveland's Palace Theatre until March 15th. Bashoff spoke with BroadwayWorld about all things Mortiz, how long he plans to stay with the touring company, and just what he's going to do with his hair after he's done with the show.
What keeps Moritz fresh for you after playing him for so long?
When I joined the tour company last summer, it felt like a completely new project for me.
I had the great fortune of replacing a great actor on Broadway, and replacing an actor is a lot different than creating a character. With the tour, it felt like I was doing something from the ground up and building a whole lot of it from scratch. That was refreshing and invigorating, not to mention the fact that we had the whole creative team involved with the tour process from the get go. When I was put in the show to replace John Gallagher a few were there, but it was a whole different story with the tour. That's the biggest sense of what kept it fresh to begin with.
Now we are on the road. After doing the part so much, it feels like the kind of material that is organic and ever-changing. I'm still discovering new things in the character and growing with the part. Maybe that is because I'm human and as I grow, art grows with me. I definitely feel like I wouldn't be here unless I had something more to give or discover.
Give us an example of something you've discovered about the character recently that has informed your performance.
I've realized that Moritz is the heart and soul of the piece. I always knew that and it was a big part of the initial draw for me, but more than ever, especially in the more conservative cities on the tour, you get the sense that he is universally accepted as the endearing heart and soul of the piece. If anything, I've learned to make him more human and less of a character. He is very real and represents a lot of kids today.
You mentioned the more conservative cities on the tour. On Broadway, audiences probably had a better sense of what they were in for when they attended "Spring Awakening," but a fair amount of the audience on the tour probably has no idea what they are in for when they attend the show, which probably leads to a more varied reaction.
Absolutely. That's a good thing. We feel incredible blessed to be able to take such a unique piece all over the country. These are cities that would normally not see this kind of art. And "Spring Awakening" isn't your normal theatre piece. It's a piece of art, and like all art, it disturbs, but at least it stirs some sort of emotion with you. So even though reaction varies from place to place, we still get the standing ovations at the end. They just digest the story in different ways.
We haven't had any "oh my God, this is revolting and I need to leave now!" people. We've had people who have quietly enjoyed it.
It's great, as an artist, to be able to push the buttons a bit. To some cities it may be a controversial piece, but it's rooted in reality and is a great story to tell.
What cities were you most looking forward to going to and what cities are you still looking forward to going to?
Initially it was definitely the west coast. I thought San Francisco was amazing. I really, really love Seattle. It was a great vibe of great audiences who were very literate and got all of it.
The surprise in the middle of the country was Des Moines! We had fantastic audiences there and in Minneapolis. There are little gems that pop up here and there.
How do you become acclimated to every city you visit?
We have great company managers who give us all of the materials we need. I'm a big museum guy, so the minute we get here and unpack, we are exploring. Some cities have great public transportation and some have really bad-but we can always taxi. I like to walk and take it all in when we get there.
These one weekers are really tricky because you want to see the city and take it all in, but at the same time you have your obligation to the show. These one weekers are a tease; you pop in and you pop out. When you stay a long time in a city like San Francisco, Los Angeles you get a real sense of the environment.
Now, "Spring Awakening" has onstage seating. Has anyone ever done anything to you or said anything to you when you were sitting onstage next to them?
I've had a couple taps on my leg and shoulder and a few people who express their admiration. A lot of "I love you!" and "You were great on 'Lost'!" The minute I sat down somebody said "Oh my God it's Karl from 'Lost'!" at the top of their lungs.
Aside from that, I don't have that many crazy stories. I love that there is that relationship between the performers and the audience. We need that sense of intimacy. When we are on the road, we need that sense that what we are doing matters and is sticking from the audience members.
Do your "Lost" fans or your "Spring Awakening" fans endear themselves more to you?
It's amazing how many crossover fans there are. I've gotten a better sense of the "Spring Awakening" fans because obviously we stagedoor and have that immediate reaction. But I know there are some diehard "Lost" fans out there, but for me, the one-on-one has been more "Spring Awakening." And they are great. We call them our "Guilty Ones." We have some groupies and roadies and there is an intense fanbase but, hey, that's awesome.
The Eugene O'Neill Theater, where the Broadway version of "Spring Awakening" was performed, is one of the smaller Broadway houses. The touring show makes its home in huge two-or-three tiered theaters. Do you thing the show loses or gains something by losing the intimacy of the Broadway version?
I think a lot of it has to do with the specific theatre and the architecture.
Our job, whether the house is big or small, is to tell the story. We keep it as real and consistent as possible. And if we do that the audience, no matter how close or far away, will come to us.
Have you been keeping up with "Lost" this year?
I've been watching this season on iTunes. It's amazing and was such a smart, natural evolution for the show to go in the direction of time travel. I'm hooked.
What else are you really enjoying in entertainment right now?
I loved "Revolutionary Road" and "Slumdog Millionaire." We had an Oscar party, which was fun. I'm listening a lot to Rufus Wainwright. I don't really watch a lot of TV because we don't have that much time. And when we do have time I'm either reading or on the Internet.
Did you like all the musical numbers on the Oscar show?
I thought it was great that Hugh Jackman was paying homage to the musicals because they are back and it is so true. I love it because I'm from TV doing theater so for me it is one gigantic industry and it's great to see it mingle together.
If you could play any other character in "Spring Awakening," who would it be?
I think for one night only it would be fun to play Melchior. But just one night. (laughs)
And what character would you most like to play on Broadway?
I'm not a typical musical theater guy so I'm not that familiar with it. I've been told I'd make a great MC in "Cabaret." I don't know what that means, but that's what I'm told. I think it would be fun to be Mark in "Rent."
Who do you hang out with the most in the touring company?
Kyle and I are very close because we had that bond when he came and joined the Broadway company. But it's a different kind of friendship, more like a professional, work friendship. I would say that I'm closest with Andy Mientus, Ben Moss,Gabrielle Garza, Christy Altomare and I have a lot of fun with Steffi D. There is a big age difference because I'm the oldest member of the youth. Sometimes there is that weird, interesting dynamic of "Am I your friend? Big Brother?" It's a really special company and I'm having the time of my life with them.
Do you miss having normal hair?
Oh, how I miss having normal hair! (laughs)
I'm so used to this that I can't imagine what my life would be like with a normal hair style. I guess the big question is what do I do when it's all over? Do I shave it all or grow it out and see what happens?
How long are you planning on staying with the tour?
When I thought about doing the tour, I thought that only the West Coast would be fine with me. After talking with John Gallagher and my friends from the Broadway company, we realized that it is hard to keep something fresh and alive. It is a grueling part that takes its toll emotional.
But because we are on the road, it stays fresh longer. Everything is faster and it doesn't allow the material to get slow because every city has new challenges and excitement. We have opening nights almost weekly.
At the latest, I'll be leaving this summer. But I'm hoping I can stick it out because I'd love to do the whole first leg of the tour, which would end in Chicago this summer.