Fifteen years ago, Spring Awakening — the musical that transformed singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik into an in-demand theater composer and actors like Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff into Hollywood-bound stars — began its revolutionary run on Broadway. And on Monday night, the groundbreaking musical — along with its entire original Broadway cast — returned for one night only to celebrate its enduring legacy.
The Spring Awakening 15th-anniversary reunion show took place at Broadway’s Imperial Theater, currently home to the hit Ain’t Too Proud. The performance, produced by cast members Groff and Lauren Pritchard along with Tom Hulce and Ira Pittelman and helmed by the show’s original director Michael Mayer, also served as a benefit for The Actors Fund, the nonprofit that offers financial assistance and services to entertainment professionals.
Lines of eager fans stretched down and around a busy 45th Street in Manhattan, which was also the site that evening of the New York premiere for Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Netflix adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s 2001 musical Tick, Tick … Boom!, as well as the long-awaited return of the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company for previews.
While some concertgoers were left waiting an extra hour outside due to ticketing delays at the Imperial, the sold-out show eventually went on, with the original cast performing a full concert version of the rebellious 2006 musical. With a full band onstage and the entire cast seated in a line of black chairs, the performance brought the story of teenagers in turn-of-the-century Germany discovering their sexuality and learning firsthand the consequences of shame and stigma back to life — and had audience members on their feet and cheering more often than not.
Those who couldn’t snag tickets to the near-immediately-sold-out performance are in luck: On Monday morning, HBO announced that a documentary surrounding the anniversary show — featuring behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage, exclusive interviews, archival footage from the original production and filmed performances from Monday’s benefit — will premiere and be available for streaming on HBO Max in 2022. But for now, here are the highlights of a night that will go down in musical theater fan history.
The OBC OG’s return
There have been numerous Spring Awakening iterations around the world — including a 2015 Broadway revival featuring deaf and hearing cast members performing in American Sign Language and English, and this December the first London revival — but Monday evening’s performance was all about the original production, with every single original Broadway cast member present to reprise their roles, including the star trio of Michele as Wendla Bergmann, Groff as Melchior Gabor, and John Gallagher Jr. in his Tony-winning role as Moritz Stiefel.
In addition, cast members from other productions of the show were scattered throughout the audience. Even after the show, Groff still found himself dumbstruck at the mega-reunion that had occurred. “Every single cast member, and every single original band member is here onstage tonight,” he said. “That’s so incredibly special.”
Part concert, part re-enactment
If some audience members weren’t entirely sure how much of the musical would actually be performed during Monday’s concert, they were delightfully surprised when the cast performed the original show in its entirety, at times breaking from the concert format to re-enact key scenes in the show (such as Wendla and Melchior’s sex sequence during Act I closer “I Believe”). Some performances featured full choreography (such as the energetic “The Bitch of Living”), while others offered a more pared-down experience (like the moving “The Dark I Know Well”).
“Touch Me” strikes a chord
While big numbers like “The Bitch of Living” and “My Junk” certainly earned their ovations , the mid-Act I number “Touch Me” stood out as particularly moving. As ensemble members Krysta Rodriguez, Jennifer Damiano, Robi Hager and Gerard Canonico finally appeared on the stage during the stirring song, the audience instantly cheered, knowing that the full cast was finally performing together again. With the use of the show’s original, sensual choreography, expert lighting, and a fantastic band led by conductor and keyboardist Kimberly Grigsby, “Touch Me” quickly became a standout of the evening.
The cast gets interactive on “Totally Fucked”
In the whole of Spring Awakening, there is likely no song quite as cathartic as “Totally Fucked.” Just as the characters in the show are finally letting all of their pent-up frustration loose, the actors decided that they would let their internal excitement boil over for this number. It began when Groff decided to get face-to-face with some very eager audience members in the front row, kneeling down and singing directly to one lucky concertgoer who squealed with glee as he serenaded her. After that, for the song’s explosive finish, the entire cast got out of their seats and began jumping, headbanging, dancing and skittering around the stage, all of them beaming and hugging each other as they sang the classic “blah blah blah” refrain.
A touching tribute to the show
After the cast took their bows at curtain call, Groff took a moment to thank the audience for coming, spread the word about The Actors Fund supporting struggling actors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and give a few rounds of applause to the sponsors, producers and venue employees for helping put on the show. Then, Groff decided to have the audience participate in a “little exercise,” as he called on members of the original production’s creative team in the audience (including writer Steven Sater, composer Sheik, director Mayer and many more) to stand and be recognized by the adoring crowd. “This has been such an extraordinary experience for us,” Groff said, choking up. “We couldn’t wait to tell this story in front of an audience again, in honor of The Actors Fund. Thank you so much, all of you for being here tonight and making our dreams come true.”