Spring (Awakening) Fever: An Interview with Jonathan Groff
Lately, it's been Spring (Awakening) Fever on Broadway with audiences, fans and celebrities coming to see the new show - not to mention that it has received the best reviews of any musical so far for the 2006/2007 theatre season. In a companion piece to Lea Michele's interview, I checked in with another of the show's talented young stars - Jonathan Groff, who plays the role of Melchior in Spring Awakening.
Ok, let's start at the beginning - where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania - in Amish Country!
And where did you go to school?
I went to a local high school in Lancaster. Not much I can say about it, it was pretty much your typical public high school back in Pennsylvania.
Did you do any theatre there?
Actually, there was a great community theatre that I did a lot of theatre in, and there's a regional theatre called the Fulton Opera House in downtown Lancaster that I also worked a lot in. I basically grew up in that theatre. When I wasn't doing shows, I was working on crew there and then I of course did all my High School plays, which were great.
Which ones were those?
I did How to Succeed in Business..., Kiss Me Kate, Godspell and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown in high school all of which were fun.
Did you get to spend time in New York also? What was the first Broadway show that you saw?
I think the first Broadway show that I saw was Beauty and the Beast, and that was in 5th or 6th grade. Our school would take bus trips up to see shows and so it was on one of their bus trips that I got to see Beauty and the Beast.
Did you see lots of shows growing up?
Fortunately I did! Lancaster's only two and a half hours away from the city (New York), and there's always a bus trip going up. Later in High School, when I could drive up with my friends I would. We'd make a day trip out of it and hang out in the city and then see a show. So I was real lucky that I got to grow up so close to the city.
Do you have any personal favorites or shows that inspired you to make this your career?
While I was in High School I saw Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie and she was the one that was most inspiring to me for sure. I saw Millie 6 times in a span of two years or so.
Did you keep going back because of her?
Yeah, I kept going back to see her because she was so inspiring. When I was up here working at a restaurant waiting tables I would go to see the show before my shift. I would take a student ticket or a standing room ticket to see her in the show and then I'd feel more inspired while I was waiting tables afterwards.
Has she seen Spring Awakening?
She has! She came and saw it at the Atlantic Theater and she came to the opening night on Broadway. She's a huge fan of the show, and actually during previews, she sent bagels to our theatre every Saturday morning to help us through previews which was so nice.
That is nice!
She's one of the most genuine, generous people that I've ever met - not to mention that I'm such a huge fan, so it was a great thing. She's amazing!
How did you first get involved with Spring Awakening?
I first got involved about a year ago. I auditioned last November and my agent got me an appointment for the show and I went in a couple of times. In December we had a full week of auditions and then a full 8 hour day of callbacks where they brought different groups into the room and lined up the whole cast like A CHORUS LINE, and saw how everyone looked with each other.
Then we did a workshop which started at the end of February and went into the middle of March and then we started rehearsals in April for the Off-Broadway run which opened in June and the rest is history! We came and rehearsed here in October, started previews in November and opened in December.
How has the show changed and evolved?
From my first time with it till now, you would be amazed at how much it changed. When I first started with it in February, there was no "The B**** of Living", my first song was not in the show and the whole first boy sequence wasn't in it either. They kept writing different songs because they knew that they wanted something, but didn't know what. There was no solid ending to the show either. "The Song of Purple Summer" was always there, but the scene before in the graveyard wasn't there. I didn't sing "Totally F*****", the ensemble did. Overall, it was very, very different. Melchior wasn't as much of a rebel as he is now and his relationships with the others wasn't as established. It's really come a long way in the past year because we've been working on it so much.
We talk about it all the time, the cast does ... "Remember when we used to do ?" It's funny how much has changed.
With such a young, energetic cast - how close are you all off stage?
Oh, we're so close. We hang out all the time outside the theatre. This experience has sort of bonded us in a way that only something like this could bond us. We're all close to the same age. I think that the average age is like 18-19. I'm 21 and the youngest is 15, so we're in a similar age bracket.
In a lot of shows that you do, people sort of run the gamut of age and most are older and have families, but since we're all so young and this is our first sort of big experience, this show is the center of our lives. We come here to work, and we come here to have a good time and to hang out with each other. I can't think of a better bonding experience than to be able to sit on stage and to watch your fellow performers perform on stage every night. That's such a gift because you can sort of bring your focus to watch what goes on (on stage) and people inspire you to do better...and that's because we're all on stage together ,which is so rare. I like watching stuff from the wings, when I do shows so this is a real gift to me.
Having the cast on stage for the whole show is something that definitely doesn't occur often. So you never wish you were backstage playing cards?
No, not at all. It feels like a community supporting each other, it's really an ensemble piece.
What was it like working with Duncan Sheik?
It was truly incredible. I was just talking about this yesterday with a friend of mine. The way that the whole thing came about was so unique. I guess that I haven't been part of that many new musicals, but the way that we'd work is that Duncan was writing all these new songs all throughout the workshop. He would come in, and there was a ton of music. He would bring his guitar and play the songs for us and we'd gather around him and that's how we learned the songs and a lot of our music. He's amazing and I have all these recording of Duncan singing all of our songs in their early days on a guitar. I've got to put those onto CD or something. He's so great.
I was so intimidated by him the first day of rehearsal because he's a true rock star and has that sort of air about him. He's so talented, and after I got cast, I bought all of his CDs and became a huge fan of his music. He's so nice and kind and patient with all of us who came from a musical theatre background and are now singing this kind of rock music.
Is he still coming by the theatre ?
Yeah, he stops by all the time, he loves it. Honestly I think he just loves the show, he was there last night. I can't imagine what it's like to see your baby on stage. The whole creative team keeps coming by, they love it.
If I ever wrote a show, they'd have to drag me out of the theater
I know! They talk to us after each time they come, and they tell us the changes that they like that we're making. In a weird way they're like a set of parents.
What was it like for you as a performer about the fantastic critical reaction?
During previews for our show, it's no lie that we were having a really hard time selling the show. We had trouble selling half the house during previews. People didn't know who we were or what to make about us. So ,the thing that I'm the most grateful for about the reviews ,is that I think they sort of beefed up our sales in a big way. People now know about it and know that it's something new and something different.
So far as the reviews were concerned, we were all most excited about the fact that they meant that we were going to be able to hang around for a little bit. It's hard when you believe in something so much, have something that is so close to your heart - so we were excited that we were hopefully going to make it a little bit longer and to make people know about us which would be great.
People certainly do know about the show now, and it's all the talk of the theatre world online and off. What has the audience reaction been like for you and for the cast?
It's such a thrill. They've been eating it up and people love it. I think that at first you had to know what was going on in the theatre world to find us, since it was Off-Broadway and we did very little or no advertising at all. Suddenly we're in this 1,100 seat house and it's filling with people all over and people are responding to it in the way that they are, which is astounding.
For example the beating scene in the show - Off-Broadway it was a silent, serious moment and on Broadway every now and then we'll have people who laugh at it. It's bizarre - I don't know if it's because they're uncomfortable or if it's because the show is funny up to that point. It's interesting, but I think that overall people are leaving like they experienced an event because it's so out there and so different from everything else that's running. I think that they leave sort of feeling like they've seen a rock concert in a way.
And they're all lining up at the stage door, too?
Yes! We have a lot of fans at the stage door who are very excited - asking for pictures and autographs and it's been just completely surreal to go from this little intimate thing that now feels like a big rock concert. It's been really exciting.
Have you followed the online reaction at all?
I haven't, I can't. I'm too afraid. I went on the chat rooms one time when I was in a show called In My Life last year, and that was the only time that I've gone on... and I won't go on again! I was so sad to see that people were just ripping things apart and I just couldn't go back and read things. I've heard though, and people have told me that the online reactions have been wonderful, which I'm so thrilled about...but I'm scared to go look, so I just take their word for it.
Well, you can take my word for it, too then, that you've got a lot of fans on BroadwayWorld.com.
Great...that's so great to hear.
Do you have a favorite part of the show?
Oh gosh...it changes all the time. I think that my favorite part of the show to watch right now is "The Dark I Know Well". Lili Cooper, Lauren Pritchard and the boys hit it every time, and watching the pin spot and the microphones in front are amazing
My favorite part to do right now, is "The Mirror-Blue Night". I sort of walk out to a platform on the stage and I do this sort of dance that Bill T. Jones choreographed and it's a unique moment in the show for me because I get to express and discover what I'm feeling without speaking or singing. That's been my favorite part to experience every night because it's so different than the rest of the show.
Speaking about the rest of the show and one moment that's received a lot of commentary - how do you handle the brief bit of nudity?
It's been great - since the beginning, our director Michael Mayer, has been really upfront with everyone in the cast, and especially with every uncomfortable moment in the show. When we were staging this scene, it was by the numbers. "On this line grab her boob," and "on this line we think that you should do this," and "you should do this." Before I knew it, I was pulling my pants down and that was it.
Also, Lea and I are very comfortable with each other on and off stage, so it's helped having each other - to go through the experience with and to be there for each other. It was a little scary, at first, when we were downtown and I pulled my pants down for the first time...but now we're kind of used to it, and used to each other...which is kind of hilarious, but good.
How have your friends and family been reacting?
The only time that I was ever really uncomfortable was when my parents were there They've seen it like 10 times which has always been fine...but they decided that they wanted to sit on stage, so they sit not on the side which sees my butt, which I thought was fine because they wouldn't see my butt. When I was on the hay loft with Lea trying to convince her to have sex with me, I could see them right over her shoulder so that was a little uncomfortable, knowing that they were there. Normally, I can forget that people are there and just be in the moment, but when they're there, and staring at your face, it was a little uncomfortable for both of us actually. That was the only time that it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
What's your relationship like with Lea Michele?
We make sure that we connect before the show every day and run some lines, and talk about how we're doing that day because of all we go through on stage together and I think that she's incredible. She's got the voice of an angel and she's so passionate about what she does and she's so wonderful in the show. If one of us is feeling tired, then we raise the other one up. We have a great working relationship. It's a lot to go through, and especially if you didn't like someone...it would be such a challenge...so we're lucky.
I know that it's still the early days for you and Spring Awakening, but do you have any big dream roles out there that you'd like to tackle in the future?
I get that a lot, and I don't know because I'm so happy to be a part of the show that it's hard to think of the future and what I could move onto because I'm so happy doing this show every day and every night that I can't imagine leaving it any time soon. I'm happy focusing on this and I'll be doing this 'tll I get too old and they kick me out of it.
I'm happy to be here doing the show everyday, it's truly amazing and we're so lucky to be a part of it.
The original cast recording of the show is now available as well, Click Here to purchase.