Jonathan Groff interview: ‘Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known’
“It was really healing, actually, to come back together,” reveals Jonathan Groff of the reunion captured in “Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known.” The HBO documentary chronicles the recent 15 year anniversary concert of the original Broadway cast of “Spring Awakening.” Groff serves as executive producer, but viewers also watch his emotions explode on screen as he dives back into the musical which made him a teenage star. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
One silver lining of the global pandemic is that it provided the opportunity to gather the original “Spring Awakening” cast for a one of a kind benefit concert. “Everyone’s schedules were wide open because of Covid,” describes Groff, “It was feeling like kind of a miracle that we were getting everyone together.” That cast includes likes of Lea Michele, Skylar Astin, John Gallagher Jr., Lauren Pritchard, Lilli Cooper and Gideon Glick; all of whom went on to great success after their time in the show.
The pandemic also gave birth to the idea of staging the concert for charity. The Entertainment Community Fund (formerly known as The Actor’s Fund) was the obvious choice of a charitable partner, considering the group donated over $24 million since the onset of the pandemic. “This organization saved our community,” notes Groff.
The producer describes reuniting with his teenage friends as something akin to a high school reunion. “Some things never change,” he suggests, noting that old jokes and habits quickly fell into place. Yet, the cast found themselves in an extremely emotional space because of their history with the musical. They were figuring out life and discovering themselves like all teens do, but this set of teens was doing it while performing on Broadway. “We sang this music eight times a week for two years. So this music is so important to us and brings up so much emotion for us,” explains Groff. “I think you can feel it in the documentary, it was just completely overwhelming.” Indeed, the concert is packed with tears as the performers bring their adult perspectives to material which defined them as kids. “It was the most explosive, emotional night I’ve ever had in a theater,” he exclaims.
Groff found a particular sense of renewed meaning in the number “All That’s Known.” When he began a private vocal rehearsal for the song, his teacher stopped his singing to tell him he was holding on to too much. Once he took the note and opened up, he began to cry uncontrollably. “I was in the closet all through ‘Spring Awakening,’” says the actor, “and I was holding on to so much back then. So even in the physical articulation of singing…I was opening up and unblocking all this stuff that I had been holding onto 15 years before.” One of the most satisfying elements of the documentary is to watch Groff explore how hiding his sexuality caused him anxiety and pain when he was younger, and by contrast see a confident, out, adult return to the musical with gusto. “It was like an exorcism of so many emotions,” he confesses.
It’s Groff’s hope that the profound experience he had with the documentary extends past him and into young viewers. “Part of what really lit me on fire with this documentary…was how are we doing this for the generation behind us?” he asks. “Spring Awakening” was all about taking risks artistically. After all, it’s not everyday that a Broadway musical comes along to explore teenage sexuality. “I want high school and college kids to see this documentary and I want them to pursue their crazy idea,” beams Groff.
Groff is a two-time Tony Award nominee for his roles in “Spring Awakening” and “Hamilton.” The filmed version of “Hamilton” also earned him an Emmy nomination.