“Spring Awakening” has attracted some, let’s say, passionate fans.
In HBO’s “Those You’ve Known” (premiering Tuesday, 9 EDT/PDT), a new documentary about the hit Broadway musical, Jonathan Groff recalls how some theatergoers would ask him to spit in their playbills at the stage door.
“I got proposed to once. Remember that?” Lea Michele says on a recent Zoom call with Groff. “People became really addicted to the show.”
Featuring an exhilarating rock score by Duncan Sheik, “Spring Awakening” tells the story of Melchior (Groff), Wendla (Michele) and other adolescents in repressive late-19th-century Germany as they navigate sex, mental health, assault and teen pregnancy, among other mature subjects.
The provocative show opened on Broadway in 2006 and won eight Tony Awards, including best musical, and launching the careers of its young actors, especially Michele, who went on to play Rachel Berry in Fox’s musical series “Glee,” and Groff, who voices Kristoff in Disney’s “Frozen” franchise and has starred in Netflix’s “Mindhunter” and Broadway’s “Hamilton.” John Gallagher Jr. (“The Newsroom”), Skylar Astin (“Pitch Perfect”) and Gideon Glick (“The Other Two”) also achieved film and TV success.
“Those You’ve Known” follows the “Spring Awakening” cast members as they reunited for a 15th anniversary concert in New York last November. Michele, 35, and Groff, 37, share their favorite memories from the night.
Question: Was there a moment during the reunion concert that was unexpectedly emotional for you both?
Lea Michele: Jonathan cries at everything. You cried the entire time. It’s not “Which song did you cry?” It’s “Which song did you cry uncontrollably?”
Jonathan Groff: Lea’s entrance made me cry, watching her walk out and stand on that chair. It was so intense. I’m literally crying now. (Laughs.) Also, Lilli Cooper. She was 15 when she played (Martha), singing that song about abuse (“The Dark I Know Well”).
Michele: And now she’s a mom and a Tony Award nominee doing her fifth Broadway show (“POTUS”). She was so incredible in the concert. I can’t believe they didn’t show in the documentary that we drank her breast milk that night.
Q: Wait, what?
Groff: Oh, yeah. We did.
Michele: I was so nervous before the concert that I just spent the whole time in a room with Lilli and Jonathan. Lilli was getting ready and I’m holding her beautiful baby, practicing the lines for the beating scene (between Melchior and Wendla), like, “Now there. Now that’s …” Skylar (Astin) filmed it and was like, “This is hysterical.”
Q: Jonathan, did you really send a picture of your butt from the Act 1 finale to the cast group chat?
Michele: One hundred percent. You texted that to us!
Groff: I did text it to you guys. When we were looking for pictures for the documentary, I asked (photographer) Doug Hamilton, who was around a lot capturing the cast 15 years ago, if he had any pictures. He was like, “This one’s obviously not going to be in the documentary, but I thought you’d get a laugh.” And now it is. It’s only right for “Spring Awakening” that it’s there.
Q: You speak candidly in the film about your struggle to come out, in part because you worried that people wouldn’t be able to see you as Melchior. What ultimately gave you the confidence to do so?
Groff: I was living a compartmentalized life. But with this cast and creative team, there was so much love and respect of privacy, so I always felt really safe with them and was able to express myself artistically. Doing this show was like therapy and they helped me in not forcing me to answer any questions I wasn’t ready to answer. So it was a very amazing, supportive environment. And then playing the role, (Melchior) was everything I wished I was. After two years of doing that, I had this strength inside me that I didn’t have before. When I left the show, the only place to put that strength was in my real life, and I came out a month later.
Q: What’s a piece of advice you wish you could give your younger self starting out in “Spring Awakening?”
Michele: I was so worried about being perfect every single night. That pressure I constantly put on myself definitely affected my life, and I really wish I would have said, “Just enjoy this experience.” We were so young and it was a huge responsibility of leading this show, but also handling the subject matter. I didn’t take that lightly. It was a very beautiful and intense experience that I think if I had the opportunity to do it again, I would have been less hard on myself.
Groff: I collapsed on the street the Friday before the Tonys. I had this neck thing and couldn’t walk, and (musical director) Kim Grigsby happened to be walking behind me. She sent me to an acupuncturist and I wept – can you imagine? – and I released whatever tension was there. I was storing a lot of emotion, so if I could tell my younger self anything, I’d maybe recommend some massages.
Michele: (Laughs). That’s what you’d tell yourself? Get more massages?
Groff: Yeah, or just loosen up a little bit. It’s practical. I was thinking, “What is a practical tool I could give to 21-year-old Jonathan?”
Q: Lea, do you ever play the “Spring Awakening” cast album for your son? (She welcomed her first child, Ever, in 2020 with her husband, Zandy Reich.)
Michele: I did play the soundtrack in the house as we were starting the (rehearsal) process, but right now, if it’s not “Baby Shark” or “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” he just goes, “Uh-uh.” But it’s very cute because I now say, “OK, Mommy is going to work,” and he’ll go, “Laaa!” And I’ll be like, “Yes, I’m going to sing.” So he knows that I sing for work.
Q: What about “Frozen” or “Hamilton?” Does he know that Uncle Jonathan is Kristoff and King George?
Michele: He’s obsessed with (“You’ll Be Back”) from “Hamilton.” For weeks, he would go “Da, da, da, dat, da!” He had to hear Jonathan’s song, because my son’s name is Ever and at the end of the song, Jon goes, “Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.” So we would play it all the time and he became obsessed.