Retro active

The unspoiled Jonathan Groff feels the love in the 1960s hippie-rock musical Hair.

Jonathan Groff, 23, is carving out a specialty in playing angels with clipped wings. Born in the Amish-country burg of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (his mother is a Methodist, his father a Mennonite), the golden-haired, sea-eyed actor moved to New York after high school, and has flown high ever since. For the past two years, he has starred as the tarnished golden boy Melchior in Broadway’s Spring Awakening (which earned him a 2007 Tony nomination). This summer, he plays the beautiful, conflicted semi-hippie Claude in a revival of the groundbreaking 1967 musical Hair—a reprise of director Diane Paulus’s successful concert staging of the show in Central Park last fall.

Time Out New York: When you performed in the concert last year, did you have any sense that the Public Theater might revive it for a longer run?
Jonathan Groff:
The intention last fall was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hair. We rehearsed it for eight days and sort of threw it together, and it was magical. Every night there were a hundred people or more who couldn’t get tickets to the show and were sitting on the grass outside the theater just to hear the music.

TONY: So you had a hundred people on grass at each show?
Jonathan Groff:
They were sitting on grass! Who knows? [Laughs] But [the producers] realized that people really wanted to see and hear it again, so they decided to bring it back.

TONY: How do you keep Hair from just being a period piece?
Jonathan Groff:
This piece takes place in the 1960s—there’s no denying that. It’s crazy for some people who grew up in that era to think, Oh my God, is Hair really a period piece now? But in a way, even Rent is a period piece now.

TONY: Rent was kind of a period piece when it opened.
Jonathan Groff:
How do you take any show from being just a period piece? You delve into the issues and stay honest. These are dirty hippies on the streets of New York who had something to say, and who were very passionate, multidimensional people. They’re not this flowers-in-your-hair, peace-and-love joke that sometimes people write them off as.

TONY: Is the current war part of the reason people are responding to this musical?
Jonathan Groff:
I think it was harder back then because there was a draft—the idea of going to war was very real to people who didn’t want anything to do with it. And it was the first time that graphic pictures of war had really been put out in the newspaper. Today you can go to a movie and see that, so it’s not as much of a shock to my generation of kids. It’s easy to become passive in this generation, you know? But I think Hair is going to help get people energized. It really shows the horror of war and the devastation that it can bring.

TONY: Are you personally politically active?
Jonathan Groff:
Growing up in Lancaster, I just was sort of like a yes-person. Moving to New York has opened my eyes and my heart to a million different things. Am I strongly politically active? No, not so much. But am I eager to discover what I believe in? Am I starting to figure that out? I’m still learning and exploring, and I’m so excited. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Hair begins previews at the Delacorte Theater on Tue, Jul 22.

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