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'Spring' success
Jonathan Groff doesn't win, but musical dominates Tonys

By REBECCA J. RITZEL, Correspondent
Intelligencer Journal
Jun 12, 2007

NEW YORK - Jonathan Groff's Sunday began with a rehearsal and ended with a party to end all parties. In between, he was mildly disappointed, but still got to ride a wave of youthful enthusiasm up the Great White Way.

The musical "Spring Awakening," starring the 22-year-old Ronks native, took home eight honors Sunday night at the Tony Awards, New York's annual ceremony to fete the best theater on Broadway.

Groff did not win the award he was up for Best Actor in a Musical but he and his family and friends had plenty of reasons to spend the evening celebrating, whether in New York or Central Pennsylvania.  In southern Lancaster County, Groff's cousin Laurie Lewis hosted a family gathering. In Brownstown, Cindy DeForge held a champagne and hors d'ouerves shindig for teachers from Smoketown, Jonathan's elementary school.

And in New York, there was Groff, walking down the red carpet with his mom, Julie, who was by far the most fashionable physical education teacher in Manhattan. Her entire ensemble was from Doneckers of Ephrata.  

"Doesn't she look beautiful?" Groff said, ever the gentleman. "She's not escorting me; I'm escorting her."

Julie Groff wore a midnight-blue gown with a shawl collar. She clutched her sequined blue handbag and gazed around in awe.

"I'm just watching," she said. "He's talking to people, and I'm people-watching." 

The A-list of celebrities who walked in just before the Groffs included Vanessa Williams, Cynthia Nixon, Anne Heche, Ethan Hawke and Phylicia Rashad.

Lea Michelle, Groff's "Spring Awakening" co-star, worked the carpet earlier in the evening, looking stunning in a custom-made, corseted red gown.

"I have a message for all the ladies of Lancaster County," Michelle said. "Jonathan Groff is the love of my life. He's mine."

Strong words. But there's hope she walked in with another guy.

Every cast member from "Spring Awakening" attended the Tonys at the producers' expense. That's not the norm often, even actors who perform for the telecast don't get a seat at Radio City Music Hall. Investing in tickets for 15 actors, ages 17 to 24, paid off. "Spring Awakening" had a louder, more enthusiastic cheering section than any other show, which was fitting, given that the musical is about teenagers coming of age and awakening sexually during the Victorian era.

The dialogue pays homage to classical theater, but the music "rocks," in the words of Tony-winning composer Duncan Sheik. Before "Spring Awakening," Sheik was best known as the singer who topped the charts with "Barely Breathing" in 1996. In the press room after accepting his award onstage, Sheik and playwright Steven Sater praised their ebullient young cast.

Groff may not have won the Tony himself the Best Actor in a Musical award went to David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier" fame for his comic portrayal of a detective in "Curtains" but Sater told the press corp that versatile young actors like Lancaster's rising star are rare.

"We were looking for actors who looked very young, could deliver classical dialogue and could sing rock music," Sater said. "It wasn't easy."

"Spring Awakening" was the last of four nominated new musicals to be spotlighted on the Tony stage. The cast members performed a medley of songs from the incendiary show. Groff was the first to utter an unprintable five-letter word on live television  a more extreme four-letter word was voluntarily omitted in a show-stopping finale to the telecast.

The cast rushed backstage to change back into evening wear, and returned a few minutes later to accept the Tony for Best New Musical.

Understandably, the young actors did not meet the press at the evening's end. They were off to celebrate at Spotlight Live, a trendy Midtown club. But the producers, a tuxedo-clad quartet of middle-aged gentleman, were available for a few words.

"Jonathan is very cool," producer Ira Pittelman said. "He's wonderful, really."

That's something Donna Evans, Groff's first-grade teacher, could have told Pittelman 16 years ago. Like many county residents who have watched Groff perform at Ephrata Performing Arts Center and the Fulton Opera House, Evans is looking forward to a few more late-night award ceremonies.

"We're so excited for Jonathan," she said. "This is only his first Tony nomination."

Julie and Jonathan Groff attend the Tony Awards Sunday.
Julie and Jonathan Groff attend the Tony Awards
Cast members, including Jonathan Groff, top row, fourth from left, of the Broadway show Spring Awakening perform Sunday night at the 2007 Tony Awards in New York.
Cast members, including Jonathan GroffJonathan Groff and Lea Michele perform in the Broadway musical Spring Awakening.
Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele
Jonathan Groff
Jonathan Groff



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