Few people in their 20s are as accomplished as the young cast of “Spring Awakening’s” national tour. Brimming with energy and ready to rock out on their trek across the United States, it’s hard to believe that for some of these actors it’s their professional acting experience. Such is the case with Christy Altomare, who just graduated from the College Conservatory of Music in 2008. She dove into the lead role of Wendla with such apparent ease and poise that one can hardly believe she’s not a seasoned performer
San Francisco Foghorn: How are you enjoying San Francisco? Is this your first time here?
Christy Altomare: This is actually the first time I’ve ever been on the West Coast for a long period of time. I traveled briefly when I was like eight or nine years old. So this is my first real experience being on this side, and it’s absolutely beautiful and sunny and the people are really nice. It couldn’t be a better experience for my first national tour. You know, it’s not that different. San Francisco reminds me a little bit of New York. I feel like I’m home sometimes.
SFF: How was opening weekend? Do you feel like you had a pretty good response?
CA: Oh yeah, I definitely do. The first night, which was kind of a surreal experience, we generally do three bows and they kept clapping so much we went out and did a fourth bow. The crowds have been crazy and really getting involved with the show which has been great.
The crowds have been great, the people have been great; we couldn’t be happier.
SFF: What is the biggest misconception people have about this show? It is pretty different from what people typically expect of musical theater.
CA: Well, the interesting thing about this day and age is that a lot of the musicals you see today are jukebox musicals: like the standards, happy go lucky, jump up and down, feel-good musicals that [are] all sunny and roses. The great
thing about this musical is that it [has] a really great message that starts a dialogue between teenagers and their parents. Not only is it unique in that sense, but it also has this indie rock score that’s the
kind of music that kids, teenagers and parents can listen to on the radio today. It’s not your usual musical; it’s a brilliant work of art.
SFF: We listened to an interview that you had with Playbill where you said this was your dream role. What’s it like to play the role of your dreams?
CA: It’s such a fairy tale experience, you know, coming straight out of school and jumping into this role. It’s an absolute dream. I don’t even know how to describe it. The people in the cast are so inspiring, and the creative team has been so supportive. I just couldn’t have asked for a better first
experience. Now I can say ‘I am an actress.’
SFF: How would you describe the music your own music you produce as a singer-songwriter, and how it compare to ‘Spring Awakening?’
CA: I would say it’s an alternative rock sort of sound, kind of
Joni-Mitchell-esque, kind of folky, a little bit John Mayer.
They’re my biggest inspirations…Counting Crows, just anything that has a feel good sound with good lyrics that tells a story about love, which is what a lot of the teens in the show sound like. I would say my sound is similar
to the sound in “Spring Awakening.”
SFF: A really cool aspect of “Spring Awakening’” is that you guys get to perform with a band right onstage with you. What kind of dimension do you think that adds to your performance?
CA: Oh, so much more. It really brings that whole indie rock type feel: that feeling that you’re seeing a rock concert with a story. It’s an awesome experience. And having the audience onstage along with the band is just phenomenal.
SFF: What would you say to people who may be on the fence about seeing the show because they’re not into the whole musical theater genre?
CA: I would tell them that it is a love story with great music and they’re going to laugh; they’re going to be moved, and they’re going to walk away with a beautiful message.
As for Kyle Riabko, the twenty-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, playing the part of Melchior (the other lead of this show) is a chance to revisit the role that he took over on Broadway. This time, he says, he’s proud to bring the show to audiences that have been hearing about “Spring Awakening” for a long time.
SFF: Have you been able to enjoy the city at all? We know you’ve been very busy.
Kyle Riabko: You know, we’ve been really busy, but we’re kind of in the heart of it all. We’re halfway between Union Square and the Tenderloin district, which is a very interesting experience. I’ve actually been to San Francisco many times before, so I knew what to expect, and I really love it here.
SFF: We got to see the show on opening night. We did the whole onstage seating thing.
KR: Were you on the butt side or the boobs side? [In the play, there is brief partial nudity. For audience members who choose to take part of the onstage seating, not everything happening onstage is visible at the same time]
SFF: We were on the butt side.
KR: You’re welcome.
SFF: Why do you think people respond so strongly to this show? When we went to see the show, there were people in line who had attended every single preview night already.
KR: It’s definitely the kind of piece that creates obsessive fans, which is an interesting phenomenon in any case. I think, in our case, that the reason why it’s so deeply moving for these
people is that the things we are portraying onstage, they’re actually going through in real time. Also, most importantly, I think the music is so damn good in this show that it’s like coming to a rock show every night.
SFF: What’s it like as a performer to sit among some of the audience members and get to interact with them that way?
KR: One thing that I don’t like about musical theater, in general, is how big and how grand it tends to be, you know? ‘I’m feeling so much that I have to siiiing.’ With this show, because we’re surrounded by people and we’re in a very intimate setting, it gives us permission as actors to play
things small, almost like we’re on camera. There’s someone very close to us watching our movements. It’s just nice to be able to tell the story really subtly.
SFF: This is a pretty emotional show. You visit some dark places. There’s parts where you’re emotionally exposed and then places where you’re very literally exposed. What’s it like to do that eight [times] a week?
KR: It’s difficult when you really go to that place. The emotional stuff more than the literal. I mean it’s not that hard to pull your pants down. To get to that emotional state you do have to dig within yourself and
that’s tough to do. The way I try to appease that is to go about it differently each night; to try to vary it based on what I’m feeling that day. I also think it’s extremely therapeutic to go through [that] gamut of emotions.
SFF: You have a CD coming out called the Parkdale Sessions. Could you talk about that and how it relates to ‘Spring Awakening?’
KR: I’ve always been a musician first and so my goal is always, through any of the acting or theater work that I do, to continue to promote the musical side of who I am. Right before I got this gig I recorded and wrote a bunch of songs in Toronto, where I lived, and put them together into a CD and then added a couple of songs that are actually from the show.
SFF: What do you think you’ll do after the tour of ‘Spring Awakening?’
KR: I don’t know, that’s such a big question mark. I will always have the music stuff, because over the years I’ve toured so much that I know I can go back out and do that. I’m excited, I’m just going to live my life. I’m still a very young little boy.
For the full interviews with Christy and Kyle, visit www.foghorn.usfca.edu