THE LEADING MEN: He's 'Hot' Stuff

By Wayman Wong
05 Jul 2006

In Duncan Sheik and Stephen Sater's Spring Awakening, Jonathan Groff really rocks in his role as Melchior, a bright and rebellious teen who's not afraid to talk back to his teachers or set his fellow students straight about sex. With his teen-idol looks and his angelic voice, this 5-foot-11 actor from Lancaster, PA, makes a dazzling Off-Broadway debut at the Atlantic Theater Company. Directed by Michael Mayer and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, Groff belts "Totally F*****,” Melchior's dynamic and defiant reply to authority, and the theatre explodes with exuberance as the young and incredible cast bounces about the stage, dancing as if they're in a Peanuts' TV special.

Spring Awakening is based on Frank Wedekind's scandalous 1891 German play about teen sexuality. Groff says, "That's the brilliant thing about our show. The scenes take place in 1891, and the music not only allows the characters to express themselves, but it shows you how timeless the issues of masturbation, teen suicide and homosexuality are; they're still as relevant. We can all relate to Melchior because he stands up for what he believes in. Getting to sing 'Totally F*****' is the greatest gift ever. My mom brought a busload of 56 people to see the show. I don't swear much in real life, but it was really liberating to say f*** in front of all my teachers and childhood friends. They thought it was hilarious. I'm so totally opposite of Melchior. He's an atheist and a radical who wants to change the world. And I'm a Methodist and I'm so laidback.”

For Groff, Spring Awakening has been an eye-opening and ear-opening experience. "Before I auditioned, I didn't know Duncan's music, so I bought all his albums and fell in love with them. He's an amazing performer as well as a musician. To be honest, I grew up a big musical-theatre nerd. My favorite show of all time is Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Sutton Foster knocks my socks off. I saw her six times. And Michael Mayer directed Millie, so how weird is that? I'm originating a role in a new musical and getting directed by him; it's everything I dreamed.”

Sheik, whose Spring Awakening pop score is so melodic and mesmerizing, says, "Jonathan is a joy to work with. He has no ego about his process, and he's an incredible actor. He's very sincere and searching himself as a person; that works really well in terms of Melchior's journey. And all the girls really like him.” Groff, 21, adds, "It's such an ensemble show. We're in the same dressing room; there's only a curtain separating the boys and the girls. We care about it so much, and we're all in our late teens or early twenties, so this show is like our life. I loved high school. I was consumed by theatre. When I got cast as Finch in How to Succeed, I never screamed so much or jumped so high. Omigod, I watched that movie with Robert Morse a bajillion times.”

Last year, he made his Broadway debut as an understudy, swing and dance captain for In My Life. "From start to finish, it was so much fun. Even after the terrible reviews came out, the cast was so inspiring to watch. That company formed such a connection. A few weeks ago, we had an In My Life reunion picnic in Central Park. And even Joe Brooks came. He's just a crazy, fun guy.”

Though it's been reported that Groff will play Jesus in the Paper Mill Playhouse's Godspell (Sept. 20-Oct. 22), he's taking life day by day, enjoying Spring Awakening through Aug. 5. "It's living a fantasy. If you're upset, wouldn't you love to pull out a microphone and sing to the person you're pissed off at? It's awesome!”

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There's so much to see in New York: Scott Nevins will join Tony n' Tina's Wedding as the bride's brother, Joey, starting July 6, at Vinnie Black's Coliseum at the Edison Hotel, 221 W. 46th St. (212-352-3101). He'll also host The Early Revue With Scott Nevins on July 17 at 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St. (212-206-0440). . . . Rick Jensen presents his new show, While Love Holds On, July 15 at 8 PM, also at the Metropolitan Room. And another multi-MAC Award-winning favorite, Lennie Watts, sings there July 30 and 31 at 7 PM. . . . Brandon Cutrell brings his Baggage, packed with pop songs by Alanis Morrisette and Mary Chapin Carpenter, on July 7, 14 and 28 at 9 PM to the Laurie Beechman Theater at West Bank Café, 407 W. 42nd St. (212-695-6909). And, John Hill returns with Skinny Corpse, his wacky cabaret-comedy show, July 10, 17 and 24 at 9:30 PM, also at the Laurie Beechman. . . . "The Love of Look” will be in Patrick DeGennaro's eyes when he sings The Bacharach Songbook on July 24 at 7 PM at Birdland, 315 W. 44th St. (212-581-3080). . . . Finally, don't miss the Fresh Fruit Festival's screening of "Queer Duck: The Movie” on July 16 at 7 PM at the Collective Unconscious, 279 Church St. (212-868-4444). Jim J Bullock (Hairspray) is a riot voicing the title role, and Mike Reiss' hilarious animated musical also satirizes the Tonys.

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Until next month, let's hear it for the "boys”!

Wayman Wong edits entertainment for The New York Daily News. He has been a movie and theatre critic for The San Francisco Examiner, a writer for The Sondheim Review and a Drama-Logue Award-winning playwright.