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.
WATCH: Jennifer Hudson Readies for Her Broadway Debut in 'The Color Purple'
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
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.
WATCH: Gloria Estefan Was 'Hardly Holding It Together' at Premiere of 'On Your Feet'
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.