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June 27, 2022

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Documentary turns spotlight on ‘Spring Awakening’ cast

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Now streaming on HBO Max is a documentary taking a look at a reunion 15 years in the making.

“Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known” follows the reunion concert of the original cast of the eight-time Tony winning musical “Spring Awakening,” benefiting The Actor’s Fund. The film, directed by Michael John Warren, gives fans a taste of the concert, but also dives into the development and production of the show, a challenging and unique piece of work that struggled to find its producers, and its audience, before becoming a bona fide cultural phenomenon, thanks in large part to its young, talented cast. The stars of “Spring Awakening,” many of them teenagers and young adults, were launched into the stratosphere with the success of the show and have become stars in film and TV in their own right in the years since.

Based on the German expressionist play “The Awakening of Spring,” written by Frank Wedekind, “Spring Awakening” is a strange, but utterly intoxicating musical. Set in 1890s Germany, it feels distressingly relevant even today, as the cast of teenagers deals with the roller coaster of sex, mental health, abuse, abortion and suicide, their pleas for compassion and understanding falling on the deaf ears of their parents and teachers. Written by Steven Sater and composed by rock musician Duncan Sheik, the play uses the period setting to comment on contemporary issues while the anachronistic rock, punk and folk songs bring a modern sound to the story. The original Broadway cast album is a must listen.

Part of the fun of watching the documentary is seeing the “Spring Awakening” stars before they were stars. Leads Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele will be familiar to anyone who has watched TV over the past decade or so. Michele starred as Rachel Berry in the Ryan Murphy hit show choir sitcom “Glee,” which showcased her incredible pipes, and her former “Spring Awakening” co-stars Groff and Skylar Astin dropped in for guest roles too. All six seasons of the series are available to rent on Amazon or iTunes.

Groff’s TV work hasn’t featured his singing as much as Michele’s, but he’s excelled in high-profile series like the underrated Andrew Haigh show “Looking” on HBO Max, a slice of gay life in San Francisco. Groff also landed the co-lead in David Fincher’s FBI profiling series “Mindhunter” on Netflix, playing a young FBI agent who gets a bit too close to his cases. He also co-starred in “The Matrix Resurrections” last year, which will be back on HBO Max soon.

Fortunately, most of Skylar Astin’s major roles post-”Spring Awakening” have featured his singing, including in the “Pitch Perfect” franchise, as Jesse, the lead singer of the a cappella group The Treblemakers. All three “Pitch Perfect” films are available to rent on most major digital platforms. He also sings in musical sitcom “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” on Peacock, and in “Crazy Ex Girlfriend,” on Netflix.

John Gallagher Jr., who won a Tony for his performance as the tortured Moritz Stiefel, has had a successful career in dramatic film roles, including the 2013 indie “Short Term 12,” available to stream on Peacock, Tubi and available to rent elsewhere.

Check out “Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known,” and then take a spin through the careers of the original Broadway cast on streaming.

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