A cultural phenomenon when it first premiered on Broadway in 2006, Spring Awakening transports audiences back to 19th-century Germany while telling an angst-filled story of teenagers discovering their sexuality and rebelling against their conservative parents. The eight-time Tony Award-winning musical features a book by Steven Sater with a score by Duncan Sheik and direction by Michael Mayer. Fifteen years later, the original cast and creative team reunited for a one-night-only concert to benefit the Actor's Fund. The concert and rehearsal process was filmed for release May 3 on the streaming platform HBO Max.
But that was not always the plan. Lead actor and documentary executive producer Jonathan Groff called the final project a “miracle.”
“We were putting together the reunion concert and we wanted to document it, but because of COVID and the costs of the pandemic, it became clear that we were not going to be able to do the concert as a benefit,” shared the two-time Tony nominee. “We would, in fact, lose money during the concert and not raise money for the Actors Fund.” This led him to contacting HBO’s chief content officer Casey Bloys who agreed to fund the concert and documentary.
The next step was gathering the show’s creative team which includes documentary director Michael John Warren, and from HBO, senior producer Sara Rodriguez and executive producer Nancy Abraham. According to Warren, the movie was shot in only five days. “I got my call in late October, and I was worried I was not going to be able to be available for it. Then they told me, ‘We only have five days to shoot it.’ That sounds crazy, but it is more doable than if we're going to leave home for three months.”
Warren says the film “isn’t necessarily about the reunion,” emphasizing the importance of the interpersonal connection between the actors and the Spring Awakening audience, as well as the personal awakenings felt by the young performers in the show, which launched many of their careers.
“The most important takeaway is that you are not alone. I notice a lot of people out in the world who feel alone for a variety of reasons, and for a lot of the reasons that are covered in this show,” Warren expressed.
The show’s core trio, Groff, Lea Michele, and John Gallagher Jr., who respectively originated the roles of Melchior Gabor, Wendla Bergmann, and Moritz Stiefel, echoed similar sentiments. “It was great to open so much more accessibility to our audience, both young and old. When Spring Awakening first came out, it was before the age of social media. Much of our experience was undocumented. I do not think I ever imagined that it would be truly reintroduced to this generation,” said Michele.
Emotions were high at the event, and throughout the documentary, with many of the cast members getting visibly emotional. However, the premiere paid tribute to its rock n’ roll score and featured a surprise performance following the documentary’s credits. The original cast gathered with Sheik on guitar to perform a medley of songs from the show including “Mama Who Bore Me,” “Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise),” “Touch Me,” and “Totally F**cked.” The audience joined in for the final song, singing along to the chorus of “blahs,” encouraged by Groff and Pritchard – and that was after Groff jumped into the audience to serenade a front-row fan.
On the red carpet, where Groff had a mini-reunion with Mindhunter costar Holt McCallany, McCallany was among those who shared that he had missed the show during its original run and its revival but was looking forward to seeing the material and Groff’s performance.
He continued, “My mother was a singer and a Broadway actor, Julie Wilson, and she worked for many years on Broadway. I grew up listening to that kind of music and I always loved the crooners like Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra, and all those guys. When I tell you that he does those songs as well as any of the guys that I just mentioned, it is the highest praise that I can offer for. There is almost nobody quite like him.”
In honor of the show’s history, we asked Groff, Michele and Gallagher to go back fifteen years to envision what role they’d take on, other than their original characters.
Ever the jokester, Groff said he would like to play the role of the Adult Women. “When we came back for the reunion concert, I realized how much I learned about acting from Stephen Spinella and Christine Estabrook in those roles. They played the different characters with so much depth. She also would make us laugh a lot on stage.”
The Moritz actor said he would like to switch spots with Ilse (originally played by Lauren Pritchard) given that they’re “flip sides of the same coin.” Michele was most ready with her answer, saying that she would like to play Melchoir so that she can end with “a level of hope and positivity.”