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Interview with Lea Michele and John Gallagher Jr. of “Spring Awakening”

We talk with Lea Michele ("Wendla") and John Gallagher Jr. ("Moritz") about their long histories with Spring Awakening, and the difficulties convincing the audiences to come.


Our interview with Lea Michele and John Gallagher Jr. is part four of a five-part series, "Going Geeky on Spring Awakening" being presented in conjuction with BroadwayWorld.com and the podcast, Broadway Bullet. At the conclusion of the series, we are giving away 10 pairs of tickets to Spring Awakening, including a meet-and-greet with the cast and creatives afterwards. CLICK HERE for more information on the contest.

You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 19. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

Part five of our series will be posted Thursday, Dec. 28th!

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Broadway Bullet Interview with Lea Michele (Wendla) and John Gallagher Jr. (Moritz).

Broadway Bullet: For part four of our series, “Going Geeky On Spring Awakening,” we have two of the leading actors in the studio with us. Lea Michele who plays Wendla, how are you doing?

LEA: I’m good, thank you.

BB: And John Gallagher Jr. who plays Moritz, how are you?

JOHN: Hello there. I’m well, thank you.

BB: Now I’ll just kind of set this interview up with a statement: I believe you both came to this show from very different backgrounds. From what I understand Lea, you are very much a Broadway baby and John, you kind of came in more from the —

JOHN: Straight plays.

BB: Straight plays?

LEA: But rock 'n' roll bands, too.

JOHN: But also rock 'n' roll. Playing in bands and folk music and that type of background.

LEA: And movies and Heroes.

JOHN: Film and television. I’m kind of a Renaissance man.

LEA: He’s a Renaissance man.

BB: Both of you have been involved with the show for at least two years, since the concert that Michael and Kimberly were talking about in episode three. And Lea, you’ve been with the show for how long?

LEA: I’ve been a part of Spring Awakening for about six years now, doing various workshops and readings spread out over the years, and finally did a concert series at Lincoln Center about two years ago. That’s where John and I met, and then went on to do Spring Awakening at the Atlantic Theater, and now here at the Eugene O’Neil.

BB: So why do you think you got the part so early on?

LEA: At the time I had just finished doing Ragtime, and I was auditioning for a bunch of workshops and readings, and really, I was so busy at the time, when I was younger, and I auditioned for Spring Awakening. It was completely different than anything that I had ever done. I came straight from Les Miserables, and then right into Ragtime, and here was this new piece where they ask me to sing pop songs and stuff like that, and it just really interested me, and immediately sparked an interest in me. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to sing this rock music and be a part of something new. They saw something and luckily they kept me for all these years, so I thank them for that opportunity because it’s very rare in this business to get to stick with something for so long.

BB: And John, what drew you into the show?

JOHN: I’ve always loved musical theatre. I’ve always been a big kind of closeted musical theatre nerd. When I was young my mother showed me West Side Story, the film —

LEA: I love this story.

JOHN: — I remember watching it, and I kept being like, “Aw man, I wish this was The Terminator, but whenever they would look away I would be like, “Yes! This is amazing!” I was freaking out. So I really have always dreamed about being able to do musical theatre, but I knew it would have to be a specific kind of role for me because I’m not entirely flexible for all shapes and sizes of musicals. But I heard about this musical. I was about twenty, it was about two years ago, that heard about it because they had been workshopping it for a while, but they were gearing up to do this big concert, the Lincoln Center workshop with two weeks of rehearsals and one-night-only performance. I decided to gather up my courage, and go in and audition. I had wanted to meet Michael Mayer, and it sounded like an exciting thing, and I heard some of the songs and I thought: Wow, that’s really interesting. Maybe that could fit me. So I went in.

LEA: But wait, no, no, no. First you have to tell them how you got really scared at the audition and you left.

JOHN: And I left the audition, I was so scared. I walked in and there were all these musical theatre kids and their, for lack of better terms, theatre mothers.

LEA: Well my mom wasn’t there.

JOHN: Your mom wasn’t there. I remember seeing Lea and saying, “She’s got it figured out.” But I was so scared because I haven’t been taking voice lessons, and I hadn’t been in that world of musical theatre, and I was really intimidated, so I took off and I left the audition. I called my manager, and I was like, “I’m not going. I’m going to get in there,, and I’m going to embarrass myself and they’re not going to be into me, and it’s going to be a waste of time.” And they were just like, “Go back up there and do it. You’ve prepared a song. It’s not a big deal.” So I kind of huffed and puffed, and I went back up there, and I sang a little bit of a Ben Folds song. They seemed interested, and they had me read a couple of scenes, and they kept bringing me back. I kept getting all these callbacks, and with each one, I was taking it all in stride. Then I got a call saying that I had been cast as one of the three leads in this workshop, and I couldn’t believe it.  And I’ve said this in other interviews, and I’ll say it again, I thought that it was going to be a one-shot deal for me but they kept talking about when we do the production, when we do the production and I was like, “Yes, yes, when you do the production, cool. I will come and see it.” But when we did the production, we did it over the summer, and now we’re doing the production again, and I keep being lucky enough to be involved.

LEA: You have to kind of prepare yourself for that, as I did. Everytime I did a workshop, everytime I did a reading it’d be like: “This is fun.” You kind of have to separate yourself from it afterwards because, like I said before, it is just so rare that they ask you back and keep you time and time again.

BB: They could have hired an Olsen twin.

JOHN: At any point.

LEA: Exactly.

JOHN: There’s still the movie, though. Some day maybe.

LEA: Oh my god, let’s talk about that for a minute. So I felt the same way as Jonathan, just like: this is great, and you just have to hope, and luckily here we are.

BB: How many people lose out on another show just because of scheduling conflicts?

LEA: No matter what, I would have made myself available, but being that they were just workshops and stuff like that, we were really able to work our schedules around it. Last time, when we did a workshop before the production at the Atlantic Theater, John was doing Rabbit Hole, and they worked out his schedule for Spring Awakening around his Broadway schedule, so that’s the great thing about doing workshops and readings, is that they will be flexible around your tight theater schedule.

JOHN: And it’s quite commonplace, people know this but Lea had quite a decision on her hands. She was offered a lead role in the Les Miserables revival, which would have conflicted with our production of Spring Awakening right now. There was a time over the summer that you had to make that decision, and one should have such a problem. An actor should have such a problem to decide between such great, but conflicting projects. So, if you get to that point as an actor, it’s kind of a hardship, but it’s a sweet one to make those kind of decisions. That’s always kind of happening where there’s things. When I was doing Rabbit Hole last year at Manhattan Theater Club there was the possibility that we might move and keep going at another theater. We were getting good reviews, and there was talk about Tony nominations and such, so there was a time when I was thinking, “Wow, I’ve been offered this role in Spring Awakening at the Atlantic. I might have to make this choice.” It was really scary and it just so happened that I closed Rabbit Hole on April 9th and we started rehearsals for the Atlantic run of Spring Awakening on April 10th, so I went just right into it and at the beginning of the year I said there are these two theater projects that I would be so lucky to be involved in, either of them. And the fact that I got to do both and now that one of them has gone on to this new life on Broadway, it really shouldn’t work out that an actor should get so lucky. Somehow it did.

BB: I don’t think anyone on the production end or the cast would argue that this has been a tough sell despite how great the show is. What do you think makes it such a tough sell for a show like this on Broadway?

LEA: Well, I feel like, for me, I’ve known that now for six years. That’s why it took such a long time for this show to get where it is right now because it was really hard for people to grasp a lot of these issues and really allow themselves to say, “Okay, are we really going to put this on the stage? Are we really going to do this?” That’s why it was so hard to get people, investors and producers, to join along because these are uncomfortable issues. People don’t really want to accept them but it was the minute we did Lincoln Center and then especially at the Atlantic where you saw it. You have to see it altogether and then it makes more sense. Do you agree with me?

JOHN: Yea, yea. We’re at a climate on Broadway where it’s hard to take risks. A lot of people don’t want to and rightfully so. It takes a lot of money to put up a show and not everybody wants to get involved with a gamble like that and certainly when you first hear the play takes place in 19th century Germany but then there’s these rock songs written by this pop star and when they start they pull out these microphones and they start singing these rock songs and it deals with homosexuality and abortion and teen suicide and depression and puberty and abuse. Just right there, you think, “Are the tourists really going to line up to see this show around the holiday season?” It doesn’t really make sense on paper and that’s why I think with Lincoln Center and all the workshops, people start really getting involved because they start seeing that certainly it’s a daring piece but it’s really joyful and cathartic within all of that madness and sadness. There’s a lot of exuberance and you can come and you can take something away from it. You can learn and you can get your eyes opened, or you can come and go, “Man, that was a catchy song.” Or you can do both if you’re open to all of it.

LEA: Someone came up to me after the show the other day, a woman, because a lot of times people come after the show and they sort of spill their opinions about the show onto you and you’re just like, “Okay, thank you!” But this woman came up to me and she was like, “I really like the show, I had a little problem with the second act with Moritz killing himself. That issue is just too real for me and I feel very uncomfortable seeing it on stage.” And I understood it and it’s hard to hear something like that, but I thought in my head, “That’s why we’re doing it.” If this issue is real for you then that’s why we’re doing it because these issues are real and they’re happening and the one thing that I hope people see and are learning right now is that yes, it is risky to put a new piece on Broadway with crazy intense issues and these interesting concepts to take this piece from 1890 and match it with these rock songs. But recently, if you look there have been some safer productions that have been put on Broadway like movie musicals or taking songs from rock singers and matching it with plays and they haven’t lasted. They haven’t lasted weeks and here we are with this awesome new show and hopefully, god willing, we’ll run but we’ll definitely already gotten good reviews a great responses so far, so there you go. That just proves it, that hopefully Broadway is ready for new stuff and that this isn’t such a crazy idea because here we are and we’re doing well and these other shows, which are these safer shows.

JOHN: And for people that say that the issues are hard, that it might be challenging, and I have always kind of come from the school of thought that in a lot of ways theatre should be kind of challenging and it should make you think about some things that maybe you weren’t prepared to think of. But at the same time I think there’s room for all of it. I like to have it. Sometimes I go to the theatre and I really just want to turn it all off.

LEA: Yea, I just want to chill. I love, don’t get me wrong I mean I’ve seen Hairspray three times and I love just relaxing and watching it and laughing, I think it’s awesome. And I also think that anything that’s going to get people to come and see shows is great. You want to put Shrek on Broadway? Go ahead… if it’s going to bring more people to see theatre than do it. But the point is that there is still room for us too, I don’t care how many musicals Disney wants to put on Broadway. Go ahead. Make f*%king, excuse me. Make Aladdin number three a musical, that’s fine, there’s still room for our show. There’s still room for new pieces and new musicals. My mom is going to kill me.

JOHN: You just cursed. Oh, that’s good.

BB: After what happens on stage, that’s what she’s going to have a problem with?

LEA: We are from Spring Awakening. We curse and we party all night. Yea.

JOHN: Yea.

BB: Alright, we’ve got a couple more geeky questions for our contest to win the tickets.

JOHN: Woo!

LEA: Yea.

BB: So geeky question number seven, Lea?

LEA: *gasp*

BB: What inspirational gift did Michael Mayer, the director, give you during rehearsals?

LEA: When we were doing rehearsals one day Michael Mayer, whom I love, comes up to me and goes, (Answer in Broadway Bullet Vol. 19 )

BB: And John?

JOHN: Yes?

BB: This answer will only be available at BroadwayWorld.com. During what song did you chip a tooth on opening night?

JOHN: On opening night at the Eugene O’Neil Theater.

LEA: Here we go.

JOHN: Here we go again. Everyone’s getting so tired because I keep talking about this because I haven’t gotten it fixed.

LEA: And you can’t even see it!

JOHN: You can see it. The world can see it. The listeners of this podcast can see it.

LEA: Gallagher, I swear to god.

JOHN: I chipped my tooth right out of the gate on “Bitch Of Living” which is my first number in the whole show. After who knows how many performances downtown at the Atlantic and who knows how many previews up here uptown on Broadway, I though, “Here we are on opening night after all these times of singing this song I miscalculated the distance between my mouth and the hand-held microphone.

LEA: John, you’re such a rock star though. I mean come on, I wish I could be cool like you.

JOHN: It’s really easy, we can all chip our teeth.

BB: I’m certainly glad you guys were able to take time down to the studios and talk to our listeners about the show.

JOHN: Thank you for having us.

LEA: Thank you.

BB: And I don’t want to jinx anything, but when it comes Tony time I definitely wish both of you the best of luck because I think you two are definitely worthy nominees so I’ll cross my fingers.

LEA: Thank you very much.

JOHN: Thank you kindly.

LEA: Thanks.

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You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 19. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode. or   

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