With a book by Steven Sater, a score by Duncan Sheik, and direction by Michael Mayer, Spring Awakening combines rock-n-roll with the backdrop of 19th-century Germany to tell a story of teenagers discovering their sexuality and rebelling against their conservative parents. It is a consequence-filled nightmare that touched the hearts of many viewers and saved lives, as documented through the 83-minute film which premieres May 3 at 9pm ET on HBO and HBO Max.
Playbill talked with actors Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, who says the musical “demands to be revisited” about Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known. Read the Q&A below.
What was your initial reaction when a reunion first came on your radar?
Lea Michele: This all came together because Lauren Pritchard called Jonathan Groff and said she had a dream that we were all on stage together, performing Spring Awakening in a reunion concert. She called Jonathan and said, “We have to do this.” Jonathan then called me and immediately, I was like, “Yes, like we have to do this.”
It was a visceral, quick “yes” from everyone. It was just a question of, “Is this going to actually come together?” And it happened. Now we’re introducing this show to this generation and putting it in people's homes with this HBO documentary. If you give Jonathan a seed, he will turn it into a skyscraper.
What was your reaction when everything started coming together?
Jonathan Groff: There were a lot of moments where it looked like it wasn't going to happen. Then I was at the Emmys with Hamilton and Radical Media [the company that produced the Hamilton pro-shot and documentary], and I said, “We're thinking about doing the Spring Awakening concert, maybe you could record it, or we could do a documentary or something.”
A week later, we were on Zoom, and it was happening. We reached out to HBO, they immediately said “yes.” The energy of Spring Awakening demanded to be revisited. I started to comprehend and understand it when I watched the documentary. We get to talk about how the experience changed our lives. But the documentary also tells the story of Spring Awakening, and what a groundbreaking form-bending show it was, and how it changed theatre.
READ: Which Other Spring Awakening Role Would Original Stars Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr. Like to Play?
Revisiting the source material 15 years later, did any songs resonate differently?
Michele: I started in the show when I was 14 years old. I felt like I really understood Wendla, as a teen, myself. But stepping into this production in November as a parent, I was just understanding and trying to absorb the importance of allowing your child to be who they want to be and letting them talk and talking to them. Everything hit me in a much more profound way, especially the song “Left Behind.” I've experienced loss in my life, but hearing that song now as a parent, especially having a son, it came from a whole different universe.
Groff: A lyric like, “Oh, I'm going to be wounded. Oh, I'm going to be your wound.” It is that feeling when you fall in love, and you're young, it almost hurts because it feels so big. It is like your body can't contain how big the feelings are, and it made sense to me at 21. But now at 37, having been wounded in many different ways, it resonates in a totally different way.
What do you hope is next for the show?
Michele: Well, first and foremost, I'm so excited for this documentary. My husband had never seen Spring Awakening, he saw the concert in November, but there are a lot of members of my family who haven't seen the show and they are going to get to watch the documentary and learn about this body of work. It really is life changing.
But I have to say, I turned to Jonathan during our private screening of the documentary, and I was like, “A film adaptation of Spring Awakening must happen. I have to see it brought to life again.” I want to walk into Wendla’s home and see what it looks like. What do the classrooms look like? I just wanted to dive deeper into that to the world.
Would you guys both want to star in a movie adaptation?
Groff: We are a little old.
Michele: Apparently Kristin [Chenoweth] and Idina [Menzel] are making cameos in the Wicked movie. Rumor has it. So, I really think that we could just be in the background, somewhere in some scene. They’ll be on the bridge and I'll just like walk by. They'll be in the hayloft, and Jonathan will be scooping up hay like, “don't mind me."
Jonathan, what was it like balancing your roles as an executive producer and a leading performer?
Groff: I started to do transcendental meditation because of the emails, meetings, and union stuff. Keeping things in line does not come naturally to me. This was a skill set that I learned because I felt so passionate about this documentary happening and capturing what the show meant to us, and what the show means to everyone. It was like doing your math homework.
Michele: Anyone who meets Jonathan loves Jonathan, and respects him so much. If it were anyone else, this would not have happened. But Jonathan, picking up the phone and calling everyone and sending out an email and saying, “Let's do this.” Obviously, everyone loves this piece, but it's really because of their shared love for Jonathan and knowing that he'll take care of all of us.