Lightning doesn’t usually strike twice, especially on Broadway. But the revival of Spring Awakening seems to be defying the odds with its inventive approach to the 2006 rock musical featuring a mix of hearing and non-hearing actors in the lead roles and using American sign language to tell most of this coming-of-age story.
The show, which first made stars out of Lea Michele (Glee), Jonathan Groff (Looking), and John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom), is poised to do the same for Andy Mientus, who first appeared in a touring version of the show -- his first major theater role -- and recently garnered attention for his TV roles on Smash and as the Pied Piper on The Flash. In 2014, the 28-year-old actor made his Broadway debut as Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables.
Set in 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening tells the story of teenagers discovering their sexuality. Mientus plays Hänschen Rilow, a confident and sometimes arrogant co-ed who seduces his classmate, Ernst Röbel, sings about masturbation, and seems to enjoy life on the fringe.
The second time around, the openly bisexual actor says being a few years older makes it easier to get into the head of the character. “It’s a challenge to not be too worldly, to remember that he is 15 years old and doesn’t really know much more than the rest of them,” he says during a chat in the upstairs lobby of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City.
Mientus’ experience also makes him something of a mentor among the company of first-time stage performers, most of whom are deaf. “This is only my second Broadway show, but I’m something of a veteran around here,” he says. “I have something to offer in the way of the modicum of experience that I do have in this business.”
Mientus himself is one of the show’s few hearing actors. He, Austin McKenzie and Krysta Rodriguez, a former Smash co-star, all sing and sign their lines on stage. He admittedly didn’t know much ASL prior to the show, but has spent two years developing the show in workshops and learning basic social signs. “Because the lyrics are so poetic and because Hänschen is expounding on all these really complex ideas in the 19th century, a lot of the signs that I learned for my lines aren’t that useful for conversation,” he says of his signing, which is largely limited to Spring Awakening.
Given the scale of the production -- background players singing for non-speaking actors, signing worked into the choreography, and captions scribbled across chalkboards and hand-held signs -- it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. But Mientus has made the most of it. During one number -- which features veteran actress Marlee Matlin strumming an electric guitar from the balcony -- the actor can be seen flashing his butt to the audience, if they know where to look. “That’s a little Easter egg,” he teases.
However, Mientus’ biggest moments come with two standout numbers -- a solo about masturbating with his female co-stars pleasuring him underneath his frock and a duet with Josh Castille. The latter sees Mientus seducing Castille, a deaf actor, with a mix of signing and word play that ends in a romantic embrace.
And the actor, who was recently featured in Out magazine’s Out100, seems to be enjoying more attention off stage as well. Smash’s cult status continues to grow each year the show is off the air, and The Flash seems to be laying the groundwork for Pied Piper’s return by introducing a group of related characters. “He’s always sort of on the fringe,” he says, “but I’m hopeful.” Considering fringe characters seem to be working for Mientus, it’s not that far off the mark.
Spring Awakening is playing until Jan. 24, 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City.