In early 2006, he played a teenager involved in a tragic auto accident, in Rabbit Hole. Later the same year he created the role of Moritz, the neurotic, tortured, 19th-century German youth in Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's rock musical Spring Awakening. The first show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The second won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical, and netted Gallagher himself a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. The 23-year-old Delaware native now has a fan base as big as Moritz's perpendicular hair. Gallagher spoke to Playbill.com about life as a Broadway rock star.
Playbill.com: Have performances of Spring Awakening changed much since the show won the Tony Award for Best Musical?
John Gallagher: It's kind of changed twice since the awards. We had a Monday night show after our successful Sunday night at the Tonys, and that was really quite a riveting night. We were still high off our win, but we had no idea what to expect from the audience. We got out there and it was quite obvious from the beginning that this was a group of people who had bought their tickets in advance with the hopes and sneaking suspicion that there would be cause for celebration on Monday night. We walked out on stage and it was about two minutes before they stopped applauding and let us start the show. It was thrilling. And then I, strangely enough, got entrance applause for my character, which was very strange. I had to hide the fact that I started crying immediately when it happened, because it was such a shock. That night was really off the charts. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be like that every night. The next few nights it gradually got less and less enthusiastic, but still very warm. But now, what has happened is that all these Tony Awards are bringing in a bigger tourist contingency than we've seen before. So we're getting more people who don't know about Spring Awakening, other than what they saw on the Tonys, or what they heard about. You can feel that the audience is beginning the journey from Square One with us.
Playbill.com: The show has quite a fervent fan base. What's the scene like at the stage door every night?
JG: There's always been a good amount of fans out there that have seen the show several times and want to get more autographs and take more pictures and say hi. But since the Tonys that number has increased. We have a really big crowd out there almost every night when we leave the stage door. I think it's something about this show that really excites people and speaks to them, especially younger people. I think they're so excited to see young people on stage in a show that takes young people seriously and celebrates them. This past weekend, I celebrated my birthday and I think I mentioned it in passing to a few fans. This week along I've received dozens of belated birthday gifts from fans, which is just so amazing and bizarre in a great sense.
Playbill.com: Were you in early workshops of the show?
JG: I was in the last workshop before the Off-Broadway run, which was two years ago for Lincoln Center. That's when I first got involved.
Playbill.com: I know you're a member of a rock band called Old Springs Pike. Did you have the band back then?
JG: I didn't have this band. The band that I have today is comprised of friends of mine that I grew up with back in Delaware, where I'm from. I've always played in bands with them. But at the time I first did Spring Awakening I wasn't in any band. Playbill.com: So the rock music you were called upon to sing in Spring Awakening wasn't so far away from what you knew as a musician. Do you sing in the band?
JG: I do. It's very vocal-heavy in the band. It's all made up of four-part harmony. That's how we build it; that's the only thing we know is going to happen when we start building a song. I grew up with a lot of folk music. That was really integrated into my spirit at a young age because my parents are kind of old folkies, and they listen to a lot of John Prine and James Taylor and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and The Band. Then I reached a point where I fought against it and got really into rock music. But then I kept coming back to these old folk records. It always seemed the truest source of inspiration for me. A lot of those harmony-influenced bands, like the Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, are big influences, but Bob Dylan always remains one of the biggest and Elvis Costello is one of my heroes.
Playbill.com: Has Duncan Sheik ever come to see one of your shows?
JG: He did. He came to see a couple shows last year and was really supportive about the band.
Playbill.com: Is it hard to keep your voice in shape singing the Spring Awakening score eight times a week?
JG: Some nights are harder than others, but the thing that has surprised me the most is how easy it's all gone. Especially for me, someone with no vocal training, in the beginning one of my big fears was that I might not be able to handle doing it eight times a week. But the great thing about having our Off-Broadway period was that it was such an experimental time for us performers, getting the score in our bodies and learning the wrong ways to do it and the right ways to do it, and the economical ways to sing the songs. I think we've all come to a happy place in our bodies in how far to push it every night. I was reading an interview with Anthony Rapp about doing Rent. One of the things that interested me was he said that, with such an intense rock music score, every night your impulse is to let it rip and throw caution to the wind. But you soon realize that that's not a really healthy way to do it. It becomes really easy to blow your voice out that way. So you start whittling down your performance vocally to the way you know your body can handle it. I don't know how we've done it, but me and Jonathan Groff so far are the only performers who have not missed a show.
Playbill.com: Just curious. Has anyone ever told you that, when singing that rock music in your schoolboy's uniform and short pants, you look like Angus Young, the lead guitarist of AC/DC?
JG: (Laughs) My friend said that to me once! He was the only other person. I love that comparison. I welcome it.