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'Spring awakening' Tonawanda native hits Broadway

In June, the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical went to "Spring Awakening," a critically acclaimed hit since its debut at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre last December. The show is an adaptation of Frank Wedekind's once-banned play that demonstrates the timeless dangers of generation gaps and miscommunication as a group of angst-ridden German teenagers come to terms with sexuality and morality in the mid-19th century.

Among the young and talented cast, whose characters rant their frustrations through modern-day alternative rock songs, is 22-year-old Tonawanda native and Kenmore East graduate Brian Charles Johnson.

NeXt: When did you first start performing?
Johnson: I've been performing in school plays ever since preschool, so I'd have to say I've been into performing almost my whole life.

NeXt: Where did you study theater?

Johnson: I studied theater at NYU -- Tisch School of the Arts, and studied at the Atlantic Theater Company through NYU.

NeXt: What did you do prior to "Spring Awakening?"

Johnson: I hadn't done anything professionally before this really, just a couple of small blackbox theater productions. I also kept up my singing chops by performing with my a capella group Mass Transit, which is NYU's premier all-male a capella group.

NeXt: How did you first become involved in "Spring Awakening"?

Johnson: I was taking theater classes at the Atlantic Theater Company [who put up the off-Broadway production of "Spring Awakening"] through NYU, and they remembered from an audition a year before that I did for a student-run show that I could sing, so they called me in to sing something for the administrators of the theater company. They liked me and sent me into an open call audition. There were hundreds of kids/young adults there. I sang "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles and got a callback, and then continued to go to callback after callback for about the entire month of November, and then right before Christmas, I got the call saying that they wanted to cast me as Otto in "Spring Awakening." Not a bad early Christmas present.

NeXt: A unique part is that the majority of the cast is still relatively young. How do you think this adds to the show?
Johnson: We're telling a story about teenagers going through adolescence, and most of the cast is teenagers and the rest are in their early 20s, so we're not too far removed from the reality of the characters.

NeXt: "Spring Awakening" won the Tony award for Best Musical of 2007, as well as seven other wins, and two additional nominations. What was it like being there and performing in front of so many prominent members of the entertainment industry?
Johnson: June 10, 2007, has to be the best night of my life, hands down. The whole cast, crew, and producers were sitting in the back of Radio City Music Hall cheering every time "Spring Awakening" was announced as a nominee in the different categories.

NeXt: What do you think of "Spring Awakening"'s content? What is the overall message?
Johnson: "Spring Awakening" is a story about the lack of communication between generations, and the consequences that can ensue. These teenagers are reaching out to the parents and other adults in their lives for answers, and are basically pushed away by the adults because they don't know how to talk to these kids about these sensitive issues. And it's sad to say, but this message is still relevant today.

NeXt: What does your family think of "Spring Awakening"?

Johnson: My family is so completely supportive of me and the show. Yes, the show is very edgy and pushes the boundaries of live theater in a lot of ways, but they honestly all love the show, and probably would even if I wasn't in it (just not as much, ha ha).

NeXt: You must miss your family and friends back in Buffalo. Do you visit them often?

Johnson: I miss my family, my friends, and the B-lo like crazy. Unfortunately I don't get to come back too often anymore, because we only get one day off a week from the show, and one week vacation every six months. Luckily, though, I have great friends and family, and they come down to the city every now and then to keep me from getting too homesick.

NeXt: Of course, it must be asked... Are the chicken wings in New York City even comparable to Buffalo's?

Johnson: NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!! I want to make that very clear. There are a couple places (literally like two) that have decent wings, but no chicken wing will ever compare to those that are made in the B-lo. End of story.

NeXt: Do you have any plans beyond "Spring Awakening"?

Johnson: Ideally I would love to pursue a career in a little bit of everything: theater, film, television and music. As of right now, "Spring Awakening" is still where I'm gonna be for a while, but I've been going out on a bunch of auditions, so who knows what the future has in store? I just finished doing a workshop version of "Shrek: The Musical" so maybe I might be doing that in a year or so, ya never know...

NeXt: Is there anything else you would like to include?
Johnson: There's not much else I really have to say except, for the love of God... GO BILLS!

Leah Clancy is a junior at Mount Mercy Academy.

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