Hey, remember when Spring Awakening perfectly captured the rumblings of your adolescent psyche?
Yeah, me neither.
But in the fervent fan discourse surrounding that show, there was always an unspoken, but distinct divide, and if you spend a few minutes today clicking through Tumblr—and I suggest that you do so because it’s awesome and because you’ll find lots of cute photos—you’ll see that it still exists: Either you were Team Melchior, or you were Team Moritz. More specifically, you dug Groff—the dreamboat—or you dug Gallagher—the edgy poet.
It’s not like we pulled this out of the air, or like this dichotomy hasn’t existed since the beginning of the pop culture universe, whether we’re talking about Luke Perry and Jason Priestly or those stupid vampires. The show itself sets these two up as distinct archetypes as though they’re members of a boyband: The Justin Timberlake and A.J. McLean of Broadway, if you will. At one point, the girls in the show even have a conversation about which one of them is their favorite, as though they were choosing which poster to hang above their beds. Either you were flush with excitement when Thea proclaimed Melchior “such a radical” or when Marta swooned over “soulful sleepyhead” Moritz.
The actors who played them, of course, get cast into these types all the time. How many wild-eyed idealists can Groff play in a lifetime? And how many times can Johnny Gallagher glower out at an audience, furrow his brow, and tell you about his painfully misunderstood feelings? Given that American Idiot opens tonight, and that Groff is the only thing worth mentioning about “Glee” right now, it looks like we’re about to find out.
But something kind of cool has happened with these two lately. They broke the teeny bopper mold. Or maybe their fans did. Yes, Groff is still The Cute One and Gallagher is still The Edgy One, but they’ve both managed to land in roles that spin these archetypes in unexpected ways.
At a preview performance of American Idiot, as the drunk girls seated next to me would surely have testified if they could stop slurring long enough, the estrogen levels in the room were never so high as they were when Gallagher was on the stage. Which is to say, for the entire show. Even the genuinely hunky Stark Sands, who spends a calculable percentage of the show in his underwear, could not compete. There was moaning, erratic self-fanning, the desperate clutching of illegally-and-cluelessly-powered-up cell phones. They just wanted one photo, they pleaded to the angry ushers. Enter Johnny Galls, unlikely heartthrob of the 2010 Broadway season.
Part of it is context. A gritty show demands a gritty leading man, and Gallagher is perfect for American Idiot. Small-statured and shifty and resolutely unbeautiful, save the glimmer in his eyes, he is the ultimate hero and crush for the misunderstood—you know, like the girl, for example, who needs to get smashed before a Broadway musical. But instead of being relegated to second-lead status—The Kid Who Dies, or The Foil for the Actual Hero—Gallagher is the whole show this time. He sings all the big songs, and he gets the girl (and she’s really hot). Someone like Groff would never do in American Idiot. In fact, when Groff’s character on “Glee” plays screaming rockstar, it’s spun as a joke. In fact, it’s the joke. Jesse St. James’s posturing, his theater-dork idea of what it means to be edgy, is the very thing that makes him so ludicrous. It’s so far outside the lines of a typical leading man role, yet so perfect for Groff, who looks more or less like he tumbled headlong out of a Botticelli, but can also play his very leading-mannish earnestness as camp.
A quick glance at Twitter (or Tumblr, or LiveJournal) proves that the girls (and the boys) are swooning anyway. So maybe we’re all evolving—and are suddenly a little more willing to hang all kinds of posters on our walls.