Broadway’s New Teen Heroes

Women's hair by Bok-Hee at Streeters; men's hair by Giannandrea for L'Oréal Professionnel; makeup by Jodie Boland for Dior at See Management.Photo: Paola Kudacki

As spring nears, bringing with it warmer air, a sharp uptick in life lust, and the Tonys, the Spring Awakening juggernaut shows no sign of slowing. The production, which gestated for seven years, is the Little Miss Sunshine of Broadway. Based on Frank Wedekind’s once-banned 1891 play, it’s also the most touchingly wholesome rock musical ever to feature simulated teenage intercourse. These kids channel love, friendship, and compassion along with a healthy sense of repression and rage. There’s a real sweetness on that stage (not to mention one real coupling), and now the young actors are effectively pop stars. Among a generation not exactly known for flocking to musicals, they’ve set off a whole new wave of swooning, YouTubing fandom. Brian Keith Jackson spoke with them about the show, their lives, and what they listen to when they’re not singing “The Bitch of Living.”

Scroll down the page to see what the cast told Jackson. And watch the video below to find out what life is like backstage.

A Cast Portrait

1. Lea Michele
Plays Wendla, the female lead, star-crossed lover of Melchior.
Will be 21 in August. Raised in New York. Has been with the show for seven years—“since the start.” You may have also spotted her in Les Misérables, Ragtime, or Fiddler on the Roof. On the sex onstage: “To see kids in the audience that are the same age as we are still shocked by some of the stuff we do just goes to show that there’s something that’s going to affect everyone.” That diamond ring on her finger: “No, no, no. Not engaged. This is my mother’s ring. It’s three stones—for me, my mom, and my dad—and it reminds me of them when I’m here.” On her iPod: “Ms. Dolly. I’m such a dork, but I love Dolly Parton and I’m proud of it.”

2. Jonathan Groff
Plays Melchior, the male lead, and one of the more heartbroken characters.
Age 21. Has been with the show for a year. From Lancaster, Pennsylvania—grandfather was a Mennonite preacher. Moved to New York in October 2005. Has been a waiter. On his family seeing him onstage: “The only time it was a little awkward was when it was Off Broadway. I asked if they wanted to sit onstage [where a few audience members sit], but I put them on the side that doesn’t see my ass, because I thought, That’s gonna be weird. But the problem was while I was doing the hayloft [sex] scene with Lea, my parents were right over her shoulder.” Preshow ritual: “Spend time with Lea.” Typical night out: “Go home and watch the DVR of American Idol.” Favorite book:A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.” On his iPod: “Rufus Wainwright. I don’t know what album it’s on. [Singing] ‘Men reading fashion magazines. Do you know which one I’m talking about?” Want One? “Yeah, that’s it. [Singing] ‘My phone’s on vibrate for you.’ ”

3. Skylar Astin
Plays Georg, who’s crushed out on his busty piano teacher.
Age 19. With the show for two years. From Rockland County. Dating Lauren Pritchard.On meeting a certain Long Islander: “When Billy Joel came, I freaked. He said, ‘I really love the way you play the piano.’ ” On days off: “I rest. I swear, I’ll join a gym soon.” Ideal night out: “Oh, my God. I don’t drink or smoke or anything like that. I’m kind of boring.” Favorite film: GoodFellas. Most difficult thing about dating a co-star: “Absolutely nothing.” [Lauren, below, concurs.]

4. Lauren Pritchard
Plays Ilse, free spirit.
Age 19. From Jackson, Tennessee. Has been with the production for a year—and a songwriter since she was 14. “Now working on a record deal and all that fun stuff.” Has two brothers—one’s a ballet dancer, the other’s in the Army and over in Korea. On the continuing relevance of the show’s themes: “Adults should listen to children. That’s a barrier we’ve had forever.” Favorite book: “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, by J.D. Salinger.” On her iPod: “John Mayer always. If he came to the show, I’d probably pass out.”

5. John Gallagher Jr.
Plays Moritz, whose parents truly, and tragically, don’t understand.
Age 22. From Wilmington, Delaware. Has been with the production for two years. In a band called Old Springs Pike. Says Spring Awakening has made him a better singer in part by teaching him how to take better care of his voice. On meeting celebrities: “When it happens, you go home and think, Whatever, that was my job tonight. Then a few weeks later you say, ‘Wait a minute, I did shake Steven Spielberg’s hand!’ Kevin Kline was a huge one, because he was so nice.” Favorite movie: “The Last Waltz.” On his iPod: “Sadly, mine just broke. But I’m obsessed with this band called the Avett Brothers, from North Carolina.”

6. Brian Charles Johnson
Plays Otto, who may have had a wet dream about his mom.
Will be 22 on March 19. From Buffalo. Real mom’s an accountant; father’s an English teacher. Involved with the show for about a year and a half. Was at NYU when he went to an open audition—one of those “storybook” things. Lives with Skylar “and basically Lauren as well. Ha-ha.” Currently reading: “Yes, I’m lame and out of date, but The Da Vinci Code.On his iPod: “Robbie Williams. He’s phenomenal.”

7. Remy Zaken
Plays Thea, in pigtails.
Age 17. With the show for a year. From Weston, Connecticut, but has had an apartment here since November, when she got mono and her parents decided the commute was too much. Likes needlepoint. Shops at Abercrombie Kids—“I can’t fit into adult jeans, because I’m so small.” Favorite movie:Mean Girls!” Memorable parental clash: “My favorite Website is Facebook. I’m on it all the time. My mom once threatened to block the site and I cried. Sad, I know.”

8. Lilli Cooper
Plays Martha, who has a secret.
Age 16. With the show for a year. Father is Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper. Is a junior at LaGuardia high school. Likes trigonometry. Less fond of history. Most intense fan contact: “When people tell me they can connect to my character because they’ve gone through what she has [molestation].” On her iPod: “Old jazz, like Ella Fitzgerald. And then the Pussycat Dolls.”

9. Gideon Glick
Plays Ernst, whose awakening is of the gay variety.
Age 18. From Philly. Has been with the production for a year. “Deferred for a year from NYU.” Likes Six Feet Under. Shares an apartment with his brother. Does not like “cleaning up messes that do not belong to me.” On his fan base: “They’re always surprised because I make my voice higher [onstage] and they assume I’m like that.” On his iPod: “I just started listening to Regina Spektor a lot.”

10. Jonathan B. Wright
Plays Hanschen, who assists Ernst in that awakening.
Age 20. From Livonia, a suburb of Detroit. Has been with the show a year. Likes to eat at French Roast—“I don’t think I’d ever had French food before I came to New York.” Likes skateboarding even more. On his family’s watching his masturbation scene: “I think they were happy because I was in my sort of weirdo glory at that moment. They know that I’m a crazy person.” Preshow ritual: “Off Broadway, it was Red Bull. On Broadway, it’s chicken strips and black tea.” Currently reading: “Harold Bloom’s Invention of the Human.” On his iPod: “Singers where you can hear their souls when they open their mouths. Eva Cassidy is one of those.”

11. Phoebe Strole
Plays Anna, a good friend.
Age 24. With the show a year. From Fort Worth, Texas. Likes crosswords and living with her “equally messy” roommate. Thinks there’s still a lot of teenage repression in the world. Was most nervous about meeting Molly Shannon. Is a fan of Preshow ritual: “Wash my hair.” Favorite movie:Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” Food she misses most from home: “White gravy is the one thing you can’t find here, no matter where you go.” On her iPod: “Janis Joplin.” Correction: The name of John Gallagher Jr.’s band Old Springs Pike was originally listed as Old Spring Pike; Jonathan B. Wright’s hometown Livonia was originally listed as Lavonia. New York regrets the error.

Broadway’s New Teen Heroes