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by Kathy Henderson

©2006 Bruce Glikas for
Jonathan Groff
Age: 21

Currently: Playing Melchior, the brainy, searching, sexy teen hero in Spring Awakening, the Atlantic Theater Company's new musical set in 1890s Germany with a thoroughly modern rock score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.

Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "I grew up in the middle of fields, surrounded by the Amish."

Stagestruck: His dad trains and races horses and his mom is a gym teacher, but Groff preferred acting at the local Fulton Opera House to more sporty pursuits. "My parents were jocks, but they realized right away that I loved theater so they tried to immerse me in it as much as they could," he says. To prepare for college admissions auditions, he hopped a bus to New York at 18 and tried his luck for a tour of The Sound of Music . First time's the charm: Groff was cast as Rolf, and later earned his Equity card in Fame at the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly, Massachusetts. In the end, he never claimed his spot at Carnegie Mellon.

In His Life : Don't try to get Groff to say a bad word about his stint as dance captain and understudy in last season's notorious flop In My Life . "It was an amazing experience," he says sweetly. "Despite all the bad press and the people who made fun of it, we enjoyed every minute. Three weeks ago, we had a reunion picnic in Central Park." Yeah, but the show itself was dreadful, right? "It was crazy, wacky and wild," says the ever-tactful Groff. "Everyone in New York didn't like it, but my parents liked it and a lot of people from out of town connected with the weirdness of it. It's a shame [director/writer] Joe Brooks got panned because he's the sweetest man." Note to Jonathan: If you ever get tired of the stage, you've definitely got a future in diplomacy.

Master of the Universe, 1890s-Style: In 14 hard-rocking numbers, Groff establishes himself as top dog at his all-boys' school in a provincial German town. "Originally, Melchior was the perfect student and nice guy," says Groff, who's clearly that type himself. "Through the workshop and rehearsal process, he's been completely transformed into a rebel. I am the furthest thing from Mr. Cool, so it's thrilling to play someone who talks back and challenges authority. People meet me after the show and say, 'I had no idea you were really such a nerd.'"

©2006 Joan Marcus
Jonathan Groff & Lea Michele
in Spring Awakening

Take It Off: Spring Awakening includes numerous sexual situations and explicit dialogue and lyrics, but Groff insists he's never felt self-conscious—even on the night when the first three rows were filled with folks from his hometown. "My mom and dad brought a busload of 56 people to see my bare ass in this show," he says with a laugh. "It was our family friends and all the teachers from my school, and those conservative people from Lancaster couldn't get enough of this show. I don't swear in real life, and when I looked out at them and began to sing, 'There's a moment you know…you're fucked,' they were dying with laughter."

A Matter of Trust: Groff and 19-year-old Lea Michele share an onstage love scene and a startling interlude in which her character, Wendla, begs Melchior to beat her. "We feel so lucky to be doing this together," he says of Michele, who will play Eponine in the upcoming Broadway revival of Les Miserables . "From day one, we became friends and felt comfortable with each other." Ditto for the rest of the 11 young actors in the Spring Awakening cast. "A lot of crazy things happen in this show—one kid has to masturbate and one has to jerk off on top of me—but it's never been awkward because we had so much faith in [director] Michael [Mayer] and the rest of the creative team."

Spring Into Fall? In spite of press reports that Groff will star in a September 2006 production of Godspell at Paper Mill Playhouse, the in-demand young actor obviously wants to continue in Spring Awakening if it transfers for a commercial run. (For the record, his agent, Steven Unger, says, "Jonathan is juggling a bunch of different possibilities right now. Several things are in the works, but nothing is signed.") "It's a gift to be doing such an incredible show this early in my career," Groff notes. "I'm keeping my fall open and my fingers crossed."

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