Jonathan Groff on Not Getting Naked Enough in ‘Hair’

Photo: Joan Marcus

Since his Tony-nominated starring role in last year's Spring Awakening, 23-year-old Jonathan Groff has won legions of admirers (and roles). He's currently playing Claude, the conflicted emotional center of Hair at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, opening tonight, and this fall he'll star in his first straight play on Broadway, Bartlett Sher's production of Craig Lucas's Prayer for My Enemy at Playwrights Horizons. Groff took a break from feeling the love to talk to Vulture about his charmed career, going hippie, and soft landings.

How did you make the decision to leave Spring Awakening?
I'd never dragged my feet into that building, I'd never not wanted to be there — even when I'd done it 500 times, I still loved it. But it really felt like it was time to move on and do something new, and we knew Hair was coming up in the summer. Lea Michele and I didn't want to do the show without each other — we left on the same day.

There’s an entire YouTube community devoted to your last curtain call.
Oh no, really?

You kind of don't get a word in edgewise.
Well, we planned that. Lea's very good at talking in front of big groups of people. We were very organized. She had a dramatic monologue planned.

Were you immediately excited about Hair?
The only experience I'd had with Hair before was when we were workshopping Spring Awakening, figuring out who our characters were, [director] Michael Mayer said, "Go and buy Hair and watch Treat Williams sing 'I Got Life', and that's the vibe I want you to have when you're singing 'Totally Fucked.'" And then I was singing "I Got Life" at my audition — it was very surreal and sort of meant to be.

Did you know you were the only one in the cast who wouldn’t have to get naked onstage?
I did not know that. I found out the first day of rehearsal — it was actually this huge thing going through my head like, "Well, if there's any time to get naked, I guess it's doing Hair in Central Park." And then found out I wasn't going to have to make that decision.

It seems like a pretty physically demanding role — you're constantly running around, head-banging, and dancing. Also, we were concerned about your ankles every time you jumped off that ledge.
I know, don't say that! Will Swenson and I were in our dressing room after the very first show like, "We're going to get in really great shape. It's like running a marathon." But as much as you're trying to catch your breath the whole time, it's exhilarating. And the grass is pretty cushy onstage too, I have to say.
—Rebecca Milzoff