It’s been over eight years since the Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening opened on Broadway—and re-defined the landscape for rock musicals. Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff, John Gallagher, Jr. and dozens more involved in the production take a look back with Playbill.com.
Spring Awakening, featuring a contemporary folk score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater and a book by Sater—based on the groundbreaking 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind—was known as the little show that could.
It premiered in an intimate, Off-Broadway staging at the Atlantic Theatre Company in May 2006. Audience members surrounded the cast, sitting close to the action, and a group of young adults told a powerful coming-of-age story set in 19th century Germany that deals with themes of sexuality, suicide and spirituality.
Now, years later, all of the company’s original leading players (including director Michael Mayer, writer Steven Sater and all of the show’s principal actors) look back. They remember their auditions and share their favorite memories—from onstage mishaps to backstage shenanigans to learning of their Broadway transfer, taking home the Tony and more!
Click through to read more from the Spring Awakening cast, including future replacements such as Alexandra Socha, Matt Doyle, Hunter Parrish, Jenna Ushkowitz and more, and be sure to check out the exclusive photo gallery (which includes over 100 never-before-seen photos directly from the cast!)
Lea Michele (Wendla)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I auditioned for Spring Awakening in 1999, and I sang “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Some of the cast from “Grey’s Anatomy” came, and I totally geeked out! I love that show!
Favorite offstage memory? Jonathan and I had the most fun backstage during the show. Sometimes we would walk down the street in our costumes during the show when it was someone else’s song. I also slept in the theatre with John Gallagher and Groff after the show one night. We hid from security and had the whole place to ourselves, and it was the most fun night I’ve ever had.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? We were so happy! We wanted to go to Broadway so bad.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I grew so much during Spring Awakening and truly found my voice and made the greatest friends in the world.
Jonathan Groff (Melchior)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I had a pre-screen audition with Carrie Gardner, who then called me back in to meet Michael Mayer. At that audition they played “Left Behind” and had me sing parts of it. It was unlike anything I had ever heard.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? “Left Behind” is also the song I forgot the words to on Broadway…! A horrifying few minutes that felt like a lifetime as I just repeatedly sang “Aaaallll Thiiiiiiiings” over and over and over again, while the rest of the cast put flowers in Moritz’s grave and cried/laughed.
Favorite offstage memory? Watching the Tony Awards back at Skylar and Brian’s apartment after was almost as fun as actually being there!
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? It was surreal. They would tell us some nights, “OK guys, make sure you’re on tonight—there are people with checkbooks in the audience.” We knew that it was a possibility, and the goal was to move the show. For me, finding out was a mix of relief and excitement. We had no idea if Broadway would embrace it or not, we were the dark horse!
Memories from working with the creative team… I remember when we were workshopping the show in Baruch, feeling like I was going to get fired every day! And, as the process developed, we grew from “kids” to “collaborators.” The creative team was a dream—Duncan can’t write a bad song, Steven’s heart and soul is in every lyric and scene, and Michael is the mastermind that pulled it all together. Not to mention Bill T. Jones, Christine Jones, Kim Grigsby, Susan Hilferty, Brian Ronan—such an all-star team.
Craziest stage-door experience? People asking me to spit in their programs.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? Playing Melchior changed my life. He doesn’t let the world define him. I’ve been striving to do that ever since I left the show.
John Gallagher, Jr. (Moritz)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I am pretty sure that I brought my guitar to my very first audition and sang “This Boy” by The Beatles.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? There was a scene where Stephen Spinella and Christine Estabrook told my character that he had flunked out of school. They delivered the line in the background with their backs to the audience so nobody could hear them. They said something different almost every night, and I always looked forward to it. I remember during the matinee on the Sunday before the Tony Awards Christine said, “Herr Stiefel. I have only one thing left to say to you… Good luck tonight.” And I started crying. That was a joyous and exciting moment. Jonathan Groff and I had to be careful though because we could very easily get the giggles. It happened once or twice on stage and was always a fun but harrowing experience trying to get through “Touch Me” without laughing.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? I was totally star-struck when Billie Joe Armstrong came backstage after seeing the show. I had no idea that we would go on to work together on American Idiot several years later with Michael Mayer as well as Gerard Canonico and Brian Charles Johnson, who were also in the original cast of Spring Awakening.
Favorite offstage memory? The whole cast took an overnight trip to Jonathan Groff’s family farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at the end of the summer of 2007. We all slept in tents and went on joy rides in a golf cart. That was a lot of fun. A lot of great meals at Kodama Sushi in between shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Hugging my parents after the Tony Awards sure felt good, too.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? I was so totally excited and a bit surprised to learn that we were moving to Broadway. The show always felt experimental and risky in a way that made a transfer uptown seem unlikely. Fortunately, we had very brave and eager producers who believed that the show could find a home with a larger audience.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? “It’s the bitch of living, just getting out of bed!” That one will still pop into my head from time to time on a rough day. I think that’s a particularly relatable lyric.
Memories from working with the creative team… Steven Sater’s enthusiasm for the show was always amazing. To see the writer so excited about the project you’re working on together is extremely contagious. I remember the first time I heard any songs from the show. It was a CD of demos that Duncan had recorded. The songs gave me goose bumps, and I knew from that moment on that it was going to be a special journey.
Craziest stage-door experience? A young girl fainted while I was talking to her outside of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre one evening. Not because she was flummoxed to meet me or anything, she just happened to faint. That was certainly a memorable exchange.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I think I learned a lot about sharpening my work ethic and maintaining stamina. I got in touch with my sensitive and spiritual side, in particular, working on that show. It was a very horizon-broadening experience all around. At the end of my run in the show, my friend Thad DeBrock, who played guitar in the show, gave me the book “The Alchemist” as a parting gift. I read it and loved it and still have it.
Skylar Astin (Georg)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I sang “Something in the Way” by George Harrison. I remember it being in a BIG room, and Michael Mayer was in the back of it. It was so big that [producer] Tom Hulce got up while I was singing, walked to the back where Michael was and had a private conversation. Hopefully it was either about me, or they felt I would advance to the next round, so they didn’t need to engage at the time.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? My favorite mishap is a tie between Jonathan Groff glitching during “Left Behind” and repeating the lyrics “All Things” over and over, AND Jonathan B. Wright bringing a spoon into the reformatory scene when he couldn’t find a coin in the prop area.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Billy Joel was a big one for me. He has been a big inspiration for me as a singer and songwriter.
Favorite offstage memory? I really enjoyed the GAP photo shoot because we felt like fish in the desert at the time.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? It was a huge relief and felt surreal at the same time. There had been a ton of buzz before the official announcement, so we were starting to get our hopes up while remaining realistic. That is a hard thing to do for a bunch of teenagers trying to make their Broadway debut.
Lilli Cooper (Martha)
What do you remember from your audition? I remember messing up the lyrics to “Mama Who Bore Me.
What did you sing? I learned “Dark I Know Well” in the room next door during auditions.
What is your favorite onstage memory? We had a prankster write something on one of the prop notes that we read onstage, and I remember all the girls were shaking so hard to try to not laugh. There was another time when Gerard had a pack of skittles in his pocket, and they burst all over the seats on stage.
Any onstage mishaps? The light board crashed during one show, and all the lights had to reboot from the beginning of the show during the scene before “Dark I Know Well.” It was scary and hilarious, and Remy decided to cry instead of laugh.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? I think I was most excited to meet Taye Diggs. I had a pretty big crush.
Favorite offstage memory? Singing at the Drama Desk Awards with all the girls was incredible because it was at my high school!
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? It was a very surreal moment. I was still a sophomore in high school so it felt like I was living two lives. I called my mom immediately after we found out.
Gideon Glick (Ernst)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? For my initial audition, I sang Guster’s “Keep It Together.” I had prepared the same song for my callback for the creative team, but I had trouble getting into the song, so Michael Mayer stopped me and asked me to sit on top of a couple stacked boxes in the studio and sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? I always enjoyed when understudies went on. It taught me very early on how a person’s unique spirit informed his or her work. It was also a wonderful way to see different people’s butts and boobs.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? I think it went something like this: “*@%#@*!^@$#^!$^!%@!”
Craziest stage-door experience? I always found the stage door to be a bit anxiety inducing, because I never wanted to assume that anyone was there for my autograph, so I was generally very shy and awkward.
Brian Charles Johnson (Otto)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I decided to stay for a third year at Atlantic Theater Company through NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which would prove to be the best move I could have ever hoped for. At the end of my first semester, I was called by Atlantic to come in for an audition for this new musical that they were going to be doing at the mainstage space, because they remembered that I could sing from a previous audition as a second-year student. Turns out, it was a pre-audition to get an audition. I went in and sang “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles, which my dad and I had sung together many times, and it apparently went well because I got the audition! They said they would call me later to set up a time. When that call finally came, here’s how it went:
Casting Director: Hi Brian! This is Carrie Gardner from Jim Carnahan Casting. How are you?
Me: Hi! I’m doing pretty well, thanks.
Carrie: Good! I’m calling to set up your audition time for Spring Awakening. How’s this Saturday at 1?
Me: Ohhhhh, I’m actually going to be out of town in Boston with my a cappella group this weekend! Is there another time I can come in?
Carrie: (Completely thrown by this) Umm… oh… Well, we are doing a general call audition the following weekend…
Me: Oh, okay, great! Can I come in to that then? (completely unaware of the vast difference between getting an actual audition time and coming in for an open call)
Carrie: Ummm… Okay, yeah I guess if that’s what you want to do.
Long story short, I’m an idiot. I was so deep in college mode that I failed to realize the stakes of a few things. I’ll address this a little later. After I went in to the general audition, and was literally given a number like I was running in a marathon, I was called back for another audition. And then another. And another. And another. I’m not actually sure how many auditions/callbacks I went through, but it was a bunch. This all leads up to the FINAL CALLBACK! It was scheduled for 11 AM on the same day that my sketch comedy class was performing our sketches for our final grades. This wasn’t until 6 PM, so there wasn’t going to be any conflict… Or was there? Yes. Yes, there was. As it turned out, my 11 AM audition went really well, and they asked if I could come back at 6 PM, so they could mix and match the last bunch of kids who made the final cuts? I said, “Yes I can, but I do have a slight problem. I’m performing in a sketch comedy show for a grade, and that is supposed to start at 6…but it’s literally down the hallway!” (The rooms were about 15 feet apart.) They thought about it and said, “Hmmm… okay. How about every time you get off stage, you run down and see if we need you?” I agreed, and that’s exactly how it went down. I must have looked like a mad man to all of the other kids that were in the waiting area, because I was running up and down the hallway every 10 minutes in a different costume!
Before my final callback, my friend Brad Mielke pulled me aside and said, “You realize that if you get this part, you’ll not only get your union card, but you’ll be in an Off-Broadway show right?” Turns out, I did not in fact know these things. Remember when I said I was deep in college mode and failed to realize the stakes of things? Yeah, this is the moment I was referring to. I honestly think my convenient stupidity helped me to give the best auditions I could because I didn’t feel any pressure.
After about a day or so, I received a call from casting, where I was told that they would like to offer me the role of Otto!
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? You’ll probably hear this from a few people, but one of the best mishaps was when Jonathan Groff went to the “white room” as they say, and could not for the life of him remember the lyrics to one of the verses in “Left Behind” and just repeated the chorus over and over again for what literally felt like five solid minutes before he eventually remembered and the show went on. We all had to struggle so hard not to laugh, mainly because the scene that this song is sung in is a FUNERAL PROCESSION for Moritz!
Another one of the best moments/mishaps was when the hayloft never lifted off the ground, and we all creepily huddled around Groff and Lea to sing “I Believe.” It’s amazing how much more creepy it felt for us when they weren’t lifted a couple feet off of the ground.
I could really go on and on, because it seemed like literally something happened every day. I mean, it is live theatre after all.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? My favorite celebrity story was meeting Rosie O’Donnell. I was the last one to get down to Lea’s dressing room to take pictures with the cast and Rosie. When I walked in the door, Rosie said, “Oh, it’s you! You’re cute, you!” I was kinda thrown off and a bit bashful, so I just said, “Thank you for coming” and sheepishly got into the group photo. When I came back down from my dressing room after grabbing my stuff, I ran into Rosie on the stairs as she was leaving, and as she was walking down the stairs, she said this to me: “You really are cute, you! I tell ya, if I was 20 years younger, and straight… maybe I’d have a shot!” She then went on to really show our show so much love by having us as the musical guest on “The View” and also hosted a mash up interview between the casts of Spring Awakening and “Degrassi.”
After this, I hadn’t seen Rosie in years, until I spotted her in the first few rows of the audience at American Idiot on opening night. She saw me, and we had a little moment where we waved at each other, and she said, “Oh my God! It’s my Spring Awakening guy!!” Hahaha! She had no idea I was in it. She then tracked down one of our producers after the show and asked how she could get in touch with me because she wanted me to be her guest on her Sirius Satellite radio show. Literally the next day I got the call and was invited to do an interview and sing a song. She’s such an amazing person, I love her!
Favorite offstage memory? The Tony Awards. Hands down. One of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had in my entire life. And our producers were so amazing, that they actually got the entire cast tickets, so that we could all sit together in the back of Radio City as we went on to sweep 8 of 11 awards! They also allowed us to get tickets for family members, so I was able to have my mom, dad and brother in the audience as well. I still remember everyone sitting, holding hands when John Gallagher, Jr. won the award for Best Featured Actor. It really showed how much of a family we all were and still are today. The night was so amazing leading up to our performance, which was the last of the night. After we performed, they had us wait in the wings for Angela Lansbury (who’s like my mom’s favorite person ever) to announce the winner of the 2007 Best Musical. They told us, “Now, if you guys win, give it a few seconds before running on stage, so the producers will have time to get up and down the aisle.” We nodded, and then of course were taken over by the pure joy of hearing Angela Lansbury say Spring Awakening that we completely forgot and shot out of the wings immediately, jumping for joy. It was an amazing night that I will never forget.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? We had heard some rumblings with the success of the show Off-Broadway, but I remember Michael Mayer saying something to the effect of, “Broadway won’t understand us” or something like that, so I thought, “Awww, I was really hoping they might.” Lol… But the truth is, almost all of us were completely new to this, and it was our first show we had really ever done! So we had no idea what to expect. Ira Pittelman showed up to the theatre to talk to us all before one of the shows, and I didn’t know it then, but he was wearing his “announcement jacket,” which had patches on the elbows. He told us that we would officially be opening on Broadway sometime in the coming months and that we were just waiting for a theatre to open up. Needless to say, we gave one hell of a show that night.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? This one’s for my fellow castmates… “Only men with Golden fins…”
Craziest stage-door experience? The craziest stage-door experience was probably when a few girls showed up and performed a rap that they had written about me. I believe you can probably find this on YouTube. I honestly was kind of speechless and honored that they would take the time out of their day to do anything for me. They filled a journal with the lyrics and drawings, and I still have it at my parent’s house in Buffalo. It was hilarious. They wrote a second one and performed it for me on my last day at the show, too! Thanks guys!
Lauren Pritchard (Ilse)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I auditioned in Los Angeles and then came all the way from the West Coast for the final callbacks. I sang “Another Day” from Rent cause it was the only sheet music I had, and I only had a morning to prepare for the audition. Michael Mayer and Tom Hulce wanted to hear me sing something else on that first audition, so I also wound up singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” per their request.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? So many memories. A thing that happened a few times that was “funny” was when people would bring a bag of potato chips with them to the seats that were onstage. The show would begin, and they’d be sitting around us, and someone would crack open a bag and start munching down, and then an usher would have to come and stop them, oh boy!
I think my overall favorite performance was the night after the Tony Awards in 2007. It was an overwhelmingly emotional day. We had no idea what to expect out of our Spring Awakening experience, so to win 8 Tonys and have the show be recognized in that way was incredible, uplifting and surreal. I remember feeling that every person in the theatre that night was filled with joy. It felt like a two-and-half hour celebration. I will never forget it.
Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? The celebrity moment that left me basically speechless was meeting Billy Joel. He is my all-time favorite songwriter in the history of ever, and he came to see the show on my 19th birthday. Best. Present. Ever.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? I think my first thought was, “Are they joking?!” My next thought was, “HOLY F$%#ING SH*T.”
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? Steven and Duncan wrote incredible songs, and they all have resonated with me in some way over time, but the lyrics from “Blue Wind,” “And Then There Were None” and “All That’s Known/Those You’ve Known” were always my personal favorites.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? We were so young during our time in the show. It was really incredible to be a part of that family. People would ask us all the time, “Are you guys really friends or is it just an act?” And the thing is, is that we are all friends. We always were, and we still are. Yes, of course there were [various] degrees of shit that happened, but we always had each other’s backs. Each person—cast member, creative team, crew member—played a huge role in shaping me to be who I am today. I had just turned 18 when rehearsals started at the Atlantic Theater. I was just starting to figure out what it meant to be a “grown up” and on my own, what it meant to take responsibility for your actions and how to deal with so many things good and bad coming at you at once. Learning that you have to sleep, eat well, take your vitamins, really care for yourself so that you can show up and rock it eight times a week and not disappoint your fellow cast mates. They taught me how to love really big. Sometimes when I think about the whole experience, it can seem like it was just a dream, but I’m so f*cking glad that it was real.
Phoebe Strole (Anna)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? Picking songs for auditions is not my forte. To this day, I’m not great at it. I sang the wrong-est choice that ever was, which only dawned on my simple head after I was done and realized everyone in the room was looking at me like I was nuts. (Bless you, Deborah Abramson, for making those 16 bars of “It’s My Party” the best damned 16 bars of “It’s My Party” that could ever possibly be.) Because they are benevolent and kind, Duncan and Michael asked me to sing something else. At the very end of my binder full of wrong choices, I had stashed my favorite song of all time, something that I had never considered to be an “audition” song. I sang it real good, and that’s how I got the job. You’d think I would have learned from this experience. I have not.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? I loved watching [lighting designer] Kevin Adams’ light transitions and the way they played off of the beautiful music and tried to catch new ones every once in a while. My favorite was the collection of nuanced moodiness in “Mirror-Blue Night.”
Mishaps? What mishaps? We were perfect and always followed the rules, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Women in “Saturday Night Live” have been hugely influential to me, so meeting Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer and Tina Fey was so exciting.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? Elated screams, joyful tears, metaphorical pissing of pants, followed by months of recurring jolts of fear that it might not happen.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? “On I go, to wonder and to learning/Name the stars, and know their dark returning.”
Craziest stage-door experience? One of my good friends worked nearby and would walk over every once in a while as the show was getting out. He would stand behind the people lined up for autographs, wait for me to come out and yell, “Phoebe! Phoebe, I love your work!” As I went down the line I would play along, yelling at him to leave me alone and get out. We would go back and forth till he relented, and as he walked away, would scream back at me, “See you at home!” Loved that game.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? Weird is good. Mistakes are OK. Pre-made sandwiches from Food Emporium are not to be trusted.
Remembering assistant director Beatrice Terry: Beatrice Terry, our assistant director, died after battling cancer in May of 2012. She is fondly remembered by her Spring Awakening family, and her legacy will live on through her family (including her beloved son, Beckett, and her wife, Gretchen) and the Drama League Beatrice Terry Residency project.
Jonathan B. Wright (Hanschen)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I think I tried to sing a Velvet Underground song, and then I sang “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks at the callback…? Maybe?
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? Once during reformatory scene a spoon was thrown into our little gambling pit instead of a coin. Skylar almost lost it.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Though I don’t think I ever told him—I was most freaked out that I got to work with Tom Hulce. We are both from the same part of Michigan—and in high school we watched “Amadeus” in my Humanities class. I also geeked out when John Malkovich told Gideon and I that we were terrific. We did an impression of his “you were terrific” for at least the next week.
Favorite offstage memory? The Tonys after-party was pretty spectacular. And then that weekend, right around when Gideon left the show, we all rode in a school bus to Jon Groff’s house in Pennsylvania.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? Absolutely blown away. It felt like a dream come true to have the opportunity to step on a Broadway stage.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? This just came to me—it’s always the first thing I remember. I think it was also what intrigued me most when I first heard the audition material. “Oh, you’re gonna be wounded/Oh, you’re gonna be my wound/Oh, you’re gonna bruise, too/Oh, I’m gonna be your bruise.”
Memories from working with the creative team… Michael Mayer was brilliant, incredibly exuberant and always on-point, often hysterically so. His concepts for the piece were already so solidified before rehearsal that he was playing with them and making everyone laugh all day long. Bill T. Jones had a fervent energy about him. He drew the ideas for the choreography from the actors he was working with—once, I was rubbing my hands in a particular way, listening to him talk during one of the sessions for “Touch Me,” and he turned to me and said something to the effect of, “That’s the next move.” And it was. Steven and Duncan were inspirational in their prolific creative quest to bring just the right moments to music. If it didn’t fit, they wrote a new song—sometimes in hardly any time at all (what seemed like overnight). Duncan brought a childlike sense of humor and a rock-star cool. Steven Sater was like a mamma bear and papa bear—we were his babies… And so were the words. If it weren’t for Steven and Duncan—like if it were someone else—I have no doubt this production wouldn’t have happened. There was just a synergy there that you don’t see that often.
Craziest stage-door experience? The portrait of me that went on to become the backstage Jonny B. Wright coloring contest.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? It is an invaluable experience to be in front of a new live audience every night. It’s hard to describe. I also look back on that time as like the college experience that I never had.
Remy Zaken (Thea)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I sang “Where is Love” from Oliver! I didn’t wear my contacts or my glasses, and so when [musical director] Kimberly Grigsby was like, “Heyyyy, Remy,” I kinda squinted and didn’t really acknowledge her. We had worked together on Radiant Baby at the Public, so I was being so rude, unintentionally! Tom Hulce got up and walked around in the back of the room while I was singing. And then I got “Mama Who Bore Me” to sing for the callback. The demo was of Duncan Sheik singing, and it was gorgeous. I remember feeling very intimidated.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Tina Fey. Amy Poehler. Vanessa Hudgens. I pretty much geeked over everyone. I’m a big fan of a lot of people’s work, and it’s just so exciting.
As for backstage moments, my favorite would always be waiting to go onstage before the show. We would have very fun chats.
What was your reaction when you learned the show would transfer to Broadway? There were tears of pure joy.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? Um, besides everything?! Definitely “Word of Your Body.”
Memories from working with the creative team… Duncan always seemed to be in a cab on his way to the theatre. Like, whenever we had an issue that we needed his opinion on, it was always “Duncan’s in a cab.”
Craziest stage-door experience? Sometimes we would love to play tricks on the fans who were waiting outside—one day I came outside on Blake’s leg (clinging to his leg) and we would just pretend that I wasn’t there. It’s very crazy to come out to a group of screaming fans. No one ever really prepares you for it, so sometimes you’re a little overwhelmed. I would definitely love to redo those times and work through my social anxiety instead of just rushing away. People really want to get to know you and thank you for your performance, and I needed to be a little more grateful than I was.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I am enough.
Christine Estabrook (The Adult Women)
I’ve been sitting here looking at the opening-night cards from Spring Awakening Dec. 10, 2006. Of course, I saved them all, they were on my dressing room mirror for one year and nine months. I think of the dinner with Michael Mayer and Bea Terry and Stephen Spinella. Knowing we would be four of the few creative people over 21 years old who were in the room at the rehearsal the next day. The one thing said that stuck in my mind about that dinner was the statement from both Bea and Michael saying, “You’re going to fall in love with every one of them (meaning the kids in the cast).” What an incredible ride it was.
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I did the audition in early September of 2006. I was living in L.A. at the time. I flew in, stayed overnight and went to the audition with my luggage because I was going straight back to the airport. So I’m hailing a cab, I load the luggage in the trunk, get into the cab and give the address of the audition, and the driver says, “You can’t get there from here.” In my true New Yorker voice I asked, “Whhhy?” He said, “The streets were closed because there was a big meeting at the United Nations.” I said, “Get me as close as you can” and walked three long blocks with my luggage in tow and felt like a real tourist. When I got to the auditions, the bathroom was in the back of the room where they were auditioning, so I had to keep my head down and, embarrassed, said, “I’m just going to the bathroom, first” and walked past Michael Mayer, Ira Pittleman, Tom Hulce and the casting director, Jim Carnahan. I thought it was a great beginning.
My favorite rehearsal story is that while we were doing one of the many put-in rehearsals (a put-in is when one of the bigger roles is being taken over by a new actor, and we actually go through the show with our costumes and lights, etc.), Michael was always playing around during a re-lighting or during technical adjustments, which means stopping the run-through and waiting until the lights or whatever is adjusted.
Michael used to dangle a fake snake, it could end up anywhere on your person while you were waiting onstage in low light, and then he’d yell, “Krait!,” which is an Indian poisonous snake. Once it ended up on my shoulder, and he really made me jump!
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? You know, I played five different women but remained onstage in the same wardrobe, so it didn’t help me to identify who I was playing by looking down at my clothes. I can remember during one of the technical rehearsals where we must have been running the show with everything, and I got into position in the front of the stage, my cue came, and I was silent. I finally said, “I know the line… but who am I playing?”
One on-stage experience I wanted to relate was about an audience member who saw the show over 150 shows. That’s when I stopped counting. Let’s call her J. There were about 25 seats on either side of the stage, in which the entire cast had to sit scattered among audience members during the entire show.
Well, I’m allergic to fragrance. It makes me cough and choke, and my eyes water. So it was difficult for me to guess whether or not the audience member next to me would have on a fragrance. Well, during the year and nine months that I did the show, J would sit next to me as many times as she was there and the ushers could get her into the seat. She was a perfect audience member for me to be next to. She didn’t sing with us, didn’t wear perfume and was perfectly still during the show, so I could do my mental preparation for the next scene while she sat next to me.
One time when I was returning to my seat after doing a scene, I missed my chair and fell on her while I was sitting down. She never looked at me, stayed looking straight ahead like nothing ever happened. When I had regained my composure I whispered, “Are you all right?” And, never looking at me, she nodded her head once meaning yes. Wow. She had control.
Another moment I loved was during the last performance in January of 2009. At the curtain call speeches Gerard Canonico and I stood together, my head on his shoulder. We were the only original cast members left from the first Broadway rehearsal of Spring Awakening in 2006.
Thousands of memories are flying back into my head. I just remember feeling so proud of witnessing the growth of everyone, literally seeing them mature from a teenager to an adult on the boards of the O’Neill Theatre. It’s what I call the “heavy lifting” done by everyone: writers, producers, cast, director, stage management, musicians, designers, builders, sound technicians and the crew. We all come together to make the magic of a Broadway show happen every night of the week, except the dark day, of course, when we do our laundry, maybe…
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? The celebrity I freaked over was Joan Rivers, and I’ll tell you why: I’d always seen her on her many TV appearances… Johnny Carson etc.
I thought she would be sarcastic and funny. She looked like a million bucks, as usual, and was the most gracious, generous and classy of all the celebrities who came backstage. The cast knew the drill as far as taking pictures for the publicity of the show. Some stars who came back were lukewarm about participating by taking a cast photo, and frankly we just wanted to help the publicity as easily as we could and go home. She was focused on telling all the cast members how much she enjoyed their performances and easily assembled with us for photos. I commented to the cast in the following days that Joan Rivers was the epitome of how a celebrity should conduct themselves backstage and to learn a lesson from Joan.
One of my favorite backstage moments was after we’d been performing for almost a year. I was on the side of the stage nearest the stage door. I looked out the stage door during the performance, and the first snow of the year had started. It was a magic moment to be on Broadway with a cast that I loved, in a show that I loved and to see the first snow fall.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? The lyric “All shall know the wonder of purple summer,” I think, [is] a truly bittersweet moment of the show. It reminded me then and now of the transience of the whole experience. I think Stephen Spinella, Steven Sater, Michael Mayer and I were so aware of how unusual the experience is of having a hit Broadway show. This was their (meaning the younger performers) first Broadway show, and it was incredibly successful. I think after the years of pursuing our careers it was and remains a pinnacle in the lives of those of us who were lucky enough to contribute to Spring Awakening.
Steven Spinella (The Adult Men)
Spending a year with those wonderful people, so young and full of joy and life and the hormones that make that happen, there is one over and abiding memory that encapsulates it all for me: Seeing Gerard Canonico levitate what appeared to be six feet from the ground and spin effortlessly through the air and onto the stage of Radio City Music Hall when it was announced Spring Awakening had won the Tony for Best Musical. Not even the daily magic I’d come to expect from that amazing group prepared me for that!
Steven Sater (Tony-winning lyricist and book writer)
I will remember it always—sitting, in broken daylight, on a stoop on West 20th Street, listening to the same couple of bars of music over and over. With the sense that I had to crack their riddle—immediately. It was June 2006—our umpteenth attempt to nail the closing song of Spring Awakening. A potential trio for the conclusion of “All That’s Known.”
Thankfully, we not only had Melchior’s lead vocal to work from, but also a musical motif for Moritz to return to. We just needed something for Wendla.
As it happened, Duncan had a tour date that day, but before leaving town, he recorded the strain of music for me. It was a genuine fragment, a phrase strummed on guitar, which I convinced him to hum along to—the better to hear where the potential syllables might sit.
On some few pages of notepad paper, which I have with me still, I finally sketched out the lyric:
When the Northern wind blows,
The sorrows your heart holds…
Back in the theatre, Michael was consumed with teching the show. So, our producer Tom Hulce, our music director Kim Grigsby and I huddled together, unproctored, in the green room.
I passed around hand-scribbled versions of each of the three lyrics—Melchior’s, Moritz’s and Wendla’s—and Tom, Kim and I each sang through our respective part. The first-ever performance of that now so-often-sung trio.
Through all the years we spent developing Spring Awakening, whenever we creators worked through the script together, I invariably voiced the role of Moritz. And, indeed, when my friends from high school came to see the show on Broadway, they would unfailingly point to Moritz and say, “That was you, man. Exactly.” But for that one glimmering moment, as we locked down the lone remaining song of our Off-Broadway production, I made my ghostly, guest appearance as Wendla.
Michael Mayer (Tony-winning director)
I would say that one of my favorite memories… It was my birthday when we were doing the show at the Atlantic, and it was before we were moving to Broadway—before we knew what our fate was. And, the kids had been doing the show for a while, and I went back, and I had a talk with them, and I said to them, “It’s my birthday today. Could you just remember all of the impulses that we had before audiences started really loving the show, and why we wanted to tell the story?” And, that night, I believe they gave the performance that guaranteed us a move to Broadway.
I was so blown away and grateful and humbled by their ability at a young age to understand what I was saying and to be able to incorporate it in their performances. It was a beautiful thing.
Gerard Canonico (Ensemble/Understudy; Moritz replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? My audition for Spring Awakening was sort of a blur, but I remember singing “Honesty” by Billy Joel because he was my favorite artist at that time. I also remember hearing later on that Tom Hulce thought I was 30 years old at my audition, and Michael Mayer had to remind him that I was indeed only 17. Haha.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? There were far too many special moments that happened nightly on that stage that it’s almost impossible to pick one. I would say going on for Moritz for the first time will always be one of the most amazing memories I’ll ever have from any production. Mishaps also happened nightly, but when I was in the ensemble, I was notorious for breaking chairs. I think I broke five chairs from jumping on them during “Totally Fucked” throughout my year-and-a-half as an ensemble member. That was always super great because then I had to sit on a broken chair for the rest of the play. Haha.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Before I even did American Idiot, I got to meet Billie Joe Armstrong. He was my idol growing up. I was in the ensemble, and there were a ton of people meeting him, so I didn’t expect any special attention. However, I got an autograph and a picture with him. I kept that autograph in my wallet until I booked American Idiot. Then after working with him, I decided I should just frame the autograph because that’s just too amazing of a coincidence to not have it forever.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I felt like Spring Awakening was college for me. I had the social aspect, obviously, but I also got to focus on my craft and only my craft. Being an Ensemble/Understudy meant I had to learn every single male track (except Melchior). I had no choice but to specifically focus on each person and each character. There’s no better character study than that! On top of it, they were some of the finest young actors this industry had seen. So I felt very fortunate to be surrounded by such an incredibly gifted group of people on a daily basis to learn from.
What are you up to now? I just wrapped up Brooklynite at The Vineyard Theatre, with fellow Spring Awakening alums Matt Doyle and Remy Zaken… along with Michael Mayer and Kimberly Grigsby as director and music director, respectively. Currently, I’m about to go into pre-production for Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz’s new musical Be More Chill, which will be running at Two River Theatre in Red Bank, NJ, from the end of May through June. I’m always playing music around NYC in one form or another, and I currently live in Harlem!
Robert Hager (Ensemble/Understudy)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? The first time I auditioned was when I was in high school. I was in NYC getting ready to write an essay, so I could get a scholarship for college. I was late to that appointment and, therefore, couldn’t participate. My dad had driven me that morning. He saw a newspaper stand and said to me, “Why don’t you buy a Backstage paper and see if there are any auditions?” Sure enough, Spring Awakening was auditioning for an Off-Broadway run. So I went. Didn’t get it that first run, but was then called to join the Broadway company.
For that [first] audition I played the piano and sang “Role of a Lifetime” from Bare by Damon Intrabartolo and “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney. And for the Broadway call, I sang “Sensation” from The Who’s Tommy, a role I am dying to play someday.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? Favorite onstage memory was opening night. All of our faces were shinning with joy and hope. A vision that proved dreams come true. My favorite onstage mishap was when the click track for “Mirror-Blue Night” started playing some rap song really loud instead of the ethereal intro. Hahah, that was great!
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? We had so many celebrities come see the show, [and] while I was there, Steven Spielberg came and saw the show. That was definitely one of my favorite celebrities to meet.
Favorite offstage memory? The one moment I will never forget was arriving in a school bus to the Tonys, performing and walking to the after party knowing our show won so many Tonys, including Best Musical.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? Favorite lyric “My junk is you”; also favorite song. It’s a perfect pick up line!
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I leaned a lot doing this show. I’ll be honest, I got a big ego doing the show and soon learned how that was not the way to go. The wonderful script, the experience with Michael Mayer as a director, the cast and my supportive family has humbled me beyond belief. I learned to trust myself and to keep dreaming. But most of all, to have a plan!
Blake Daniel (Ernst replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I remember that I went with my mom because I was 17 and dependent, and we flew up to New York from Georgia for an open call. There were about 1,700 other people there, and I waited in line down the block at 7 AM, got seen a few hours later, sang my song (“Let Her In” by Nathan Beaver) and flew back home.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? It honestly did not take much for us to lose our shit, I think, because we were sitting on stage the whole time and always got to see everything go down. Once during the opening of Act Two in “The Guilty Ones,” someone in the audience sneezed so hard they farted right in the silence after Groff asked Lea, “Are you alright, Wendla?” and then the rest of that song was shot. A man stood and slow-clapped by himself to “Song of Purple Summer.” Kate Burton more than once said, “What you will—a conservatory” when discussing whether or not to send Melchior to a “reformatory” for getting Wendla pregnant. And, this is not funny, but we can’t not mention the drunk man who bounded down the aisle throwing off ushers during “Mama Who Bore Me,” found a seat on stage, took off his shoes, fell asleep, woke up, had a conversation, snuggled up to the girls next to him and got escorted out by security after we finally had to stop the show mid-performance.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Hilary Duff came my second week on, and that was as good as it got for me because I had every episode of “Lizzie McGuire” on tape in high school (and would watch them to fall asleep at night, whoops). Also, once I asked our stage managers to go into the audience and get Eric McCormack out of his seat after the show and bring him backstage, so I could get a picture, and he was very nice.
Craziest stage-door experience? I feel like nothing that crazy happened… There were a lot of performance notes that were casually given out by some fans, who had seen other people play your role and had no problem letting you know what they liked more that the other person did. And there was a lot of signing body parts, some marriage proposals, lots of crying. But everyone was very nice, it was fun! More crazy things happened with audience members during performances than at the stage door. Although we did have a MySpace stalker one time, and we were advised not to go out the stage door for a while because they were making threats, and that was scary.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? So much! I came out during Spring Awakening, and everything about the show/the people/the experience made that so easy and fun.
Matt Doyle (Ensemble/Understudy; Hanschen replacement; Melchior replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? My initial audition was at an open call at the Equity building in New York City. I sat on the ‘non-Equity’ benches for about nine hours. Used the bathroom at McDonalds. I sang “Your Eyes” from Rent. Yep. They had me sing “Let It Be” instead.
I had six callbacks over the course of about five months. Shortly after the show had opened on Broadway, they called me out of the blue and told me they were adding me into the company. It changed my life.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? Groff’s mishaps were always the best because he was so sweet and endearing. If he dropped his journal, he would apologize to it. He would literally say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And, when he forget his lines one night, he simply gasped and said, “Oh...NO!”
I screwed up my Hanschen monologue a lot. One night, instead of saying, “Like a pale of whole milk,” I said, “Like a pale of… old milk?” I got so off track. The entire cast started laughing on the side. I tried to make up 19th century-like sentences and never really got back on track. I finally remembered the cue for my song, and the conductor saved me.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? THE BOSS. It’s still my favorite backstage memory. To this day. I don’t imagine that will change.
I played Melchior for Bruce Springsteen. He came backstage with Patti [Scialfa] and the entire family. He was so kind to my family, who was there as well. They all stayed and chatted with us for about a half an hour. He told me I made him cry. My mother reminds me of that moment all the time. It was absolutely surreal.
Favorite offstage memory? The Tony Awards were remarkable for all of us. The energy and love the company had that night is something I’ll never forget. It was overwhelming.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? “You watch me. Just watch me. I’m calling and one day all will know.”
Memories from working with the creative team… I owe a great deal to Michael Mayer. My life wouldn’t be the same without that man. He whipped me into shape. He didn’t hold back, and I am so much better for it. He has truly helped make me the performer I am today. I am so lucky to continue working with him nearly a decade later. Now, I’m thrilled to hear him tell me something I’m doing is “heinous.” I trust that he’s right.
Craziest stage-door experience? The stage door on closing night. It went down and around the block. It took us all over an hour to finish it. I will never feel more like a rock star.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I learned so much in those two years, I don’t even know where to start. It was our college experience lived out on a Broadway stage. Our teachers were the best in the business.
I learned I was a stubborn perfectionist that needed to let his guard down. I learned I wasn’t nearly as fearless as I claimed to be. I learned that I could achieve more than I even imagined.
What are you up to now? Still based in New York City. Doing Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Recently finished working with Michael Mayer on the world premiere of the new musical Brooklynite.
Jenna Ushkowitz (Swing/Understudy replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I remember I originally was auditioning for the touring company. I think I sang Jewel’s “Foolish Games.” It was a couple of days of callbacks and pairing us with different groupings of people, etc. When I didn’t get the tour, I was bummed. But a few months later, when Lilli Cooper was taking a two-week leave to finish her high school requirements, they needed a Martha replacement/additional swing for Broadway, so they brought me in with like a day’s notice between a matinee and evening show on Saturday. I read the sides with Remy Zaken, and they had me sing “Sadness/Blue Wind” and “My Junk.” I remember Tom Hulce telling me I sing with soul (haha!). I found out the next day while I was bartending that I got the job!
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? Oh, goodness, recalling this one is hard. I remember one very funny one. During “Whispering,” Kate Burton is in this very serious moment talking about sending Melchior to a reformatory, and she loudly cries, “CONSERVATORY! REFORMATORY!” We lost it. Not sure if that’s just funny for us! Also, one time during “I Believe,” in the very intimate scene between Melchior and Wendla, it was silent, and someone in the audience sneezed and farted at the same time. I could NOT keep it together (I’m 12).
Favorite backstage moment? We are all obsessed with Kodama. I think we personally kept that place open. I loved ordering Kodama and getting it delivered to the stage door at half-hour with the girls of 604. When I was [an] offstage swing, we would get bored, and we would dress ourselves up. One time, we did my hair and turned me into Otto with the sausage rolls and glasses.
Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? I remember Evangeline Lilly came, and I was catching up on “Lost” at the time. Ironically, I was watching it before I knew Blake Bashoff was in the cast! Also, Whitney Thompson from “Top Model” (hehe).
Favorite offstage memory? Coming in so late, I didn’t get to do a lot of events, but I do remember we found out some of the cast was going to perform on “Good Morning America,” and they included the entire cast, including the swings—so that was really fun. Side note, Broadway people are NOT used to those early hours so it was quite funny to see everyone at 5 AM.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today? One of my favorites was Melchior’s, “Now they’ll walk on my arm through the distant night/And I won’t let them stray from my heart/Through the wind, through the dark, through the winter light/I will read all their dreams to the stars.” I love this moment in the show, but I also love that we have had so many before who have paved the way, we will do the same for the future. Feels very full circle for me.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I am capable of more than I thought with being tested by learning four roles and needing to be ready at any time. It’s such a meaningful show, and it taught me how to commit to the lyrics and words and how to truly tell a story. The cast that I worked with also made me feel so worthy and loved.
What are you up to now? I just wrapped six seasons of the TV show “Glee,” with Lea Michele. I am based out of L.A., but NY and the theatre always have a large part of my heart. I have started a foundation, called the Kindred Foundation for Adoption, and just recently executive produced a documentary called “Twinsters” that world-premiered at SXSW in Austin. I hope to continue to exercise my live-theatre muscle while continuing to pursue interesting and fun projects along the way!
Hunter Parrish (Melchior replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I was staying in the Time hotel right next door to the O’Neill, and I remember being up all night trying to learn the music, singing as quiet as possible, so I wouldn’t wake up the other rooms. I sang “All That’s Known,” I think, and maybe some of “Left Behind.” As I slept the night before, I imagined the audition to look something like “American Idol”: all alone on an empty stage with ominous figures sitting far back in the house. This was not the case; it was at a brightly lit rehearsal space with no more than a few feet between me and Michael and the team. I came in and sang with Grigsby first, then again with Michael, Ira and Tom. Seemed to go well, but I had no idea what the heck I was doing. Later, a big group of us all read together at another rehearsal space. I read with a couple girls auditioning for Wendla, one of whom I didn’t realize until just last year was Sarah Hyland. Alexandra Socha and I read last, and something clicked, and that was that. It was a total dream come true for all of us.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? There’s a moment when Gerard and I embrace center stage with all of the boys. We had to freeze and hold that position for so long, we eventually made it a competition to see who could make any of the other guys laugh or break the freeze. We’d whisper subtle things or shift our weight, so the other person would lose balance. Nothing that would pull attention from the show, of course, but just our little game. Flagellant sounds were a frequent choice. Something about poodles came up once from one of the guys. I completely lost it. Luckily, my face was already frozen in a smile. I looked forward to that moment every show. It was a rare moment to connect with the guys and a small respite from the heaviness of the story.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Susan Sarandon came. That was epic.
Favorite offstage memory? This was before my run began, but I got to record some of the songs from the show for iTunes. We recorded live in the Apple Store SOHO. Duncan played and sang on the tracks, and John G. MC’d the “event” for a small live audience. I hadn’t performed one show yet, but it was so amazing to sing with this phenomenal group and have a recording of it.
Memories from working with the creative team… I came into a world that had already been built with such magic and genius, so my part was very easy. Show up, and hit my mark. Michael would encourage me to “make it my own,” which is rare for a replacement on Broadway. We had a few rehearsals months before I joined the show where he let me play and find some cool new moments, but for the most part Groff did all the hard work, and it was very simple to take his lead. We had a whole new cast, and we interacted differently than the original, so Michael made us feel comfortable to use our differences to bring new ideas to the show. That freedom is so invaluable, and I know now we were very lucky to have that incredible creative team. They were not dictators; they were cheerleaders.
Craziest stage-door experience? I did my first performance a few days before I was supposed to. Tom Hulce asked if I felt ready to do the show. I replied confidently, “No.” He responded by telling me he thinks I am, and I went on stage two hours later. I called my parents and told them I was going on earlier than expected and that they would miss my first show. I could hear the local Dallas, Texas, radio station playing in the background of the phone call. Turns out, the first person I saw when I left the stage door was my mom. She and my dad had been in on it with the producers. They played the radio station over the Internet from their hotel in NY to subtly not raise suspicion. I was fooled, and it was a fantastic surprise.
Zach Reiner-Harris (Ensemble/Understudy replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? I auditioned for the show a few times before it finally clicked. The last time was an open call in NYC in 2008. I was number 400-something. I got a call three months later saying they wanted to bring me in for a last-minute replacement for the tour cast. I went in for Carrie Gardner (casting) and Kim Grigsby (musical direction). The song was “Touch Me,” and I remember just sprinting out of the gate with it—not very subtle, with a lot of embellishments, as I am known to do from time to time! After I finished, Kim gave me an adjustment: sing it again, just as it’s written and feel what you’re singing; the embellishments aren’t necessary. Somehow everything in that moment came into focus, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I followed the direction, and it turned out to be one of the best auditions of my life. It was a magical experience.
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? I was in the ensemble and also a swing, and I had great onstage experiences and some embarrassing ones. My absolute favorite was the reprise of “Totally Fucked” we added for the final performance to accommodate the rock concert cheers that we knew would inevitably stop the show. It was magnificent. Of the not-so-great, I’d have to say that I definitely fell off a chair and knocked it over during “The Bitch of Living” once, I think as Hanschen. It was mortifying. It filled me with horror movie dread. And yet here I am, still alive! At the time however, I felt like Act Two Moritz, albeit under much less oppressive circumstances…
Favorite backstage moment? The time a few guys turned off the monitor in their dressing room, forgot to turn it back on, and almost missed their cue. You’ve never seen terror like that…
Favorite offstage memory? During my time in the show I met Katie Holmes at a party somewhere. She was in All My Sons on Broadway at the time. She told me she had been dying to see my show, but couldn’t because of our conflicting schedules. I told her I loved her in “Disturbing Behavior” (a terrible horror movie from 1998 I was obsessed with). It was deliciously awkward. Then I met Tom Cruise. He was short and made eye contact with my forehead.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? I used to believe that “everything happens for a reason” in the spiritual sense—that some things are just fated to happen, and that the reasons for them will slowly be revealed over time. But now I realize that there is no plan, no destiny, no hard-and-fast rules about the ways a person should live their life, nor about what gives life meaning. You can accomplish a lifelong dream and feel no satisfaction, and you can live without ambition for success and be utterly content, or vice versa. There is no universally measurable standard for happiness. For me, having an awareness of what I truly want, a strong set of ethics and a sense of self-worth separate from external sources of validation is what I need. I wish I would have known all of this going into Spring Awakening, but the irony is, it never could have happened that way. I am who I am now because of my experiences, and for that I will always be grateful.
Alexandra Socha (Ensemble/Understudy replacement; Wendla replacement)
What do you remember from your audition? What did you sing? I was such a nerdy musical theatre kid that I didn’t know any pop/rock songs to sing. Earlier that year I had done Aida at my youth theatre (yes, everyone was white) and thought, “Well that’s rock music!” I remember saying I would be singing “I Know The Truth” by Elton John, which is not a lie!
What is your favorite onstage memory? Any onstage mishaps? Oh gosh, how do you even answer this? There were so many. Any time any of us are together nowadays this is always a main topic of conversation, because the stories just never get old.
I guess my personal favorite is the story of the only time I’ve ever broken on stage, when a button popped off Hunter Parrish’s shirt and rolled around onstage for ten whole seconds during the scene before “Word of Your Body.” We both watched it roll around, and then he looked up at me with the biggest and most scared smile I have ever seen. Both of us started losing it and could barely keep ourselves together during the entire scene and song, to the point where the audience definitely knew. We would look away from each other, regain our composure and then have to look back and lose it all over again. The song barely sounded like notes because it was so hard for us to sing/make any noise at all without a hysterical waver in our voice. We felt terrible afterwards, but honestly it’s still the funniest thing that’s happened to me on stage. This actually happened the night we found out we were closing, so I’ve always blamed it on high emotions and not that we were just unprofessional goons.
Favorite backstage moment? Any celebrity that you freaked out over meeting at that time? Eric McCormack. “Will and Grace” was on a constant loop on my TV, and in my brain for all of high school. That was a moment where I thought, “I’ve really made it! I’ve met Will Truman!”
Favorite offstage memory? Remy and Gerard lived in an apartment just a couple blocks away from the theatre at the time. I have so many memories of hanging there in between shows or having cast parties there, sitting on their fire escape, playing lots and lots of Guitar Hero and all just hanging out. One time we all went there on our day off just so we could watch “The Goonies” and eat pasta. For a lot of us, the cast was our only friends in New York, so we would hang out all the time and that apartment was definitely the spot.
Lyric in the show that resonated with you then… or maybe still does today?
Those you’ve known
And lost, still walk behind you
Their song still seems to find you
They call you
As if you knew their longing
They whistle through the lonely wind, the long blue shadows falling
I had a childhood friend pass away not long before I did the show. It always felt like he was with me through that whole experience and that I was there for him.
Craziest stage-door experience? One time my best friend came to see the show and didn’t tell me and just surprised me at the stage door afterwards. Better than any crazy encounter. Her name is Shaina, and she is the greatest.
Something you learned about yourself from Spring Awakening? Again, how do you answer this? I learned so much working on that show. It was basically my college. But, the biggest thing I probably learned was how to make mistakes. I made so many mistakes during that year and a half, both professional and personal. It was hard to go through that trial-and-error age in a professional setting, you got in a lot more trouble than if you were at school, but it taught me so much about what being a professional actor really means and what it really takes.
Also, I definitely learned to not have a glass of champagne and then a mixed drink and then beer because you will spend the entirety of Emma Hunton’s birthday party throwing up in the bathroom.
What are you up to now? I’m still living in New York, though far away from my original midtown apartment that actually cost an arm and a leg. In June I will begin filming a comedy television series for Amazon called Red Oaks, about a country club in Jersey in 1985. I’m so excited to be with this project, and to work with some really great people, and learn a lot about what it’s really like to be on a TV show from the beginning! I hope you can all tune in when it airs!