I've done my time lookin' back on it all...man, it blows my mind.

Picture me, in the spring of 2007: a high school junior, I had just discovered a song called "The Bitch of Living" via an iTunes free download and a recommendation on Zach Braff's blog. Following the Tony Awards, most of my free time was spent on YouTube, finding out everything I could about this new musical.

Flash forward to me, in the spring of 2010: sitting in the front row of the Fisher Theater in Detroit, holding my breath as the a capella section of "The Song of Purple Summer" washed over me one last time.

At the beginning, living eight hours away from New York City did not work in favor of my burning need to see Spring Awakening. I had never experienced a connection as strong as what I felt to the music, the characters, and the cast members. The cast recording was put on permanent repeat on my iPod as soon as I purchased it. The summer after the Tony Awards, I almost convinced my mother to take me to see the show after strategically playing a few songs during the drive to a college visit. I got as far as outlining the various options to keep the cost of our trip low on numerous spreadsheets; in the end, though, our trip couldn't materialize.

In the fall, it came time to head off to college. On the third day of freshmen orientation, I ended up sitting next to my future roommate on the bus home from a Philly's game, and I knew we'd hit it off when we both revealed that we had looked up how to get to New York from Philadelphia. Our first Megabus trip was booked for November 22. I had only been to New York twice before in my life, and I will never forget turning the corner of 49th Street and seeing the marquee gracing the Eugene O'Neill Theater. The following experience was a complete blur. I remember putting my coat into the locker for BB5; I knew ahead of time that I was supposed to sit next to Eryn Murman, but she was on for Martha that day, so Jenna Ushkowitz, now of Glee fame, was in the onstage ensemble instead. I wish I could remember Ms. Murman's performance, or really anything about the show that day...before I knew it, we were applauding and the show was over.

When I found out the show was closing just two short months later, I quickly bought tickets to both matinees on closing weekend. On those two January days, I met a few Guilty Ones, didn't sleep a lot, went to the city by myself for the first time, and froze my butt off. I mourned the loss of a groundbreaking show on Broadway, just like every other fan of Spring Awakening. I was grateful to experience the intensity that the cast conveyed as they performed their show those last few times.

But when the first national tour of Spring Awakening was announced, I knew that the tour would become mine. After arriving fairly late in the game to the Broadway production, I was there to experience the excitement of tour casting announcements, cities, and changes. When Pittsburgh appeared on the map for the first leg, I did a happy dance and smiled for about a week and a half. When I became friends with a fellow fan who happened to live in the same area as me, we bonded over our mutual love of the show, and talked for hours about the show coming to our town.

Little did I know that our first show with the tour cast would be in Cleveland on a cold March night during spring break. When May arrived, we somehow ended up at Heinz Hall a record number of times, sitting onstage a record number of times, seeing a record number of understudies, and spending a record amount of time driving to and from the theater that week. I finally convinced my mother to see the show with me, and she loved it. July came, and we drove to Washington DC to see the new Melchior. Three days later, we returned to attend a cabaret that the cast put on, which culminated in driving home in the pouring rain at 4:00am and going to a full day of work on three hours of sleep. The following January, we drove through a blizzard to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where we enjoyed seeing a new Moritz and a new Ernst.

And this past Saturday, a cold, rainy May afternoon, we drove to Detroit to see this cast and this show one last time.

Many things have changed over my three-year journey with Spring Awakening. Convincing my parents that yet another roadtrip is necessary has become easier, for one thing. I now have two years of college under my belt. I am a more confident person than the seventeen-year-old who watched every cast interview and performance at least eight times. I have met my best friends because of my interest in the show and Broadway in general. But most of all, my journey with Spring Awakening has shown me the impact that art can have on a young person's life. Following the tour from its very beginning, while already familiar with the show itself, provided for a unique experience. At the risk of being cliche, I feel that I have gone on as much of a trip with the tour as its fantastic cast members have. Seeing the show over and over again may border on the obsessive, but there's something thrilling and yet comforting about the familiarity of it all. Live theater is never the same, and I remember each and every performance of the show that I've attended - the mishaps, the particularly moving portrayals of various characters that have evolved beautifully over time, and "catching up" with the cast members who recognize us. Knowing those moments that take my breath away - the lights descending in "Mirror Blue Night," the sheer chaos in "Totally Fucked," the drum beats that kick up in "Don't Do Sadness," the incredibly delicate and poignant lyrics of "Those You've Known" - and being just as moved by them every time.

In the past two years, the longest period of time I've gone without seeing Spring Awakening is six months. As I sat in my seat on Saturday and the a capella section of "Purple Summer" arrived, I thought about everything I've gained from this show, and about everything I'm going to miss - looking over the list of tour cities and figuring out which ones are within driving distance, road-tripping to places that are sometimes deserted and sketchy, the quest to sit in my favorite stage seat again, the feeling of the cast taking the stage and Wendla moving her hair from her shoulders to begin the show. The finality of the tour closing in two short weeks is imminent and weird, and I can't even imagine what emotions the cast is feeling as a huge chapter in their lives comes to a close. But I couldn't have asked for a more perfect final show, and I feel good about the way my journey with it has turned out. As the final chord sounded, I felt a chapter of my own life come to an end. Spring Awakening came along at the perfect time for me, and I will always look back at these years in my life with fondness and nostalgia.

So, thank you: to iTunes, for your free download. To Zach Braff, for the blog post that I happened to read. To the writers and creative team of Spring Awakening, who created a show that connected with me unlike anything else ever will. To the friends I've met, spent hours analyzing the show with, and drove a ridiculous number of miles with. (Yes, we've added up a total. It's a lot.) And thank you to the cast members who kept me coming back again and again. You are some of the most genuine people I've ever met, and I'm honored to have followed your careers from the beginning.

What happens when you cram 25 talented people into one room?

Broadway people are some of the hardest working people I know (or wish I knew). It takes an enormous amount of work to prepare a show from conception to first preview. And even after the excitement of opening night has worn off, theater still requires performers and artists to give their all, eight times a week. So it's pretty amazing that these same people find the time to plan and execute side concerts. It feels like yesterday that I was forced to experience the shows held at Joe's Pub and similar venues via YouTube. Of course, the high-quality videos that always seem to appear minutes after the concert ends are much, much appreciated, both by those who were unable to attend the show and by those who want to relive the night over and over again. But it is clearly impossible to convey the unique atmosphere inside the performance venue - the clink of glasses, the experience of squeezing through a teeny-tiny aisle to fit into your teeny-tiny seat, the palpable anticipation to hear a favorite performer sing an unexpected song, and the fact that every single member of the audience is there to support a talented individual whom they greatly admire.

And who could forget the savory dining options at Joe's Pub - fries and a Coke, all for the low price of $12?

In all seriousness, such shows truly celebrate the world of musical theater by allowing artists to display their passion for song in an intimate venue. Before the madness of finals week set in (well, kind of in the middle of the madness), Hillary and I had the pleasure to enjoy two such events, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that each will remain in our minds as some of the most exciting nights we've spent at a show.

Catching Matt Doyle's recent Wednesday night gig at Joe's Pub was a long time coming for me. He joined the cast of Spring Awakening right around the same time that I discovered the show, back in 2007, and following the path he's taken since his Broadway debut has been remarkable. After running into a tiny bit of traffic outside the Lincoln Tunnel, which extended our journey (as Megabus fondly refers to it) from Philadelphia by an hour, we finally made it to the doors of Joe's Pub...just as Mr. Doyle was finishing his first number. Boo. Luckily, our table reservation was still available, and we crammed into our seats to enjoy the rest of the night. His lineup of songs was a fantastic mix of songs, familiar and unfamiliar, as well as a few upbeat pop numbers.

Hearing Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "Last Week's Alcohol" live was a personal highlight, as I've been listening to recordings of it from various other performances that Mr. Doyle has done for a long time now. I was also thrilled to hear his rendition of "Run Away With Me"; the truly touching number has previously been performed by Aaron Tveit, Bobby Steggert, and the Spring Standards, and Mr. Doyle's beautiful voice and vulnerability did it justice. Ryan Scott Oliver's "Odyssey" is a fantastic song that concluded the night with intensity; it also allowed Mr. Doyle to feature the lovely Katie Gassert in the second half of the song.

We were very excited to hear Jennifer Damiano and Emma Hunton join Mr. Doyle for a few songs that we had never heard before. "What Remains," written by Drew Gasparini and sung by Matt and Jenn, is a gorgeous duet that encapsulates a relationship that is slowly falling apart; the depth of Ms. Damiano's tone brought a certain maturity to the piece. Ms. Hunton took the stage for a lively rendition of the Scissor Sisters' "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" (in which a mic stand nearly went tumbling into the audience), as well as "Touch Me" from Spring Awakening. A personal regret from my time following the show is that I never had the opportunity to see Mr. Doyle as Melchior, so it was fulfilling to hear him sing one of my favorite numbers.

If there are two songs I had never expected Mr. Doyle to sing, they would have been Chris Brown's "With You" and Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned." He rocked both, adding a dialogue about his experience auditioning for a boy band to the former which included some stellar dance moves and a strange, priceless sequence entitled "The Disney Clap." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, The Disney Clap. The integration of the song and story made it clear that Mr. Doyle is an excellent entertainer and can command the attention of an audience with ease.

Although we were logistically unable to attend the 11:30pm show, I feel the need to mention Mr. Doyle's beautiful rendition of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" with Wesley Taylor. His solo towards the end was clearly an unanticipated opportunity to shine...but he still sounded great, and the moment added a bit of personality to the number :)

After a memorable night at Joe's, our next trip brought us back to le Poisson Rouge (where we had attended the Spring Standards' album release show the weekend before) for the NewMusicalTheatre.com launch concert. We knew the night had begun when we were standing in line to get into the venue, and ended up holding the door open for Kelli O'Hara. (We're completely starstruck by people that most of our friends have never even heard of...it's cool.) I wrote a previous post about our discovery of the ever-expanding world of "underground" musical theater composers over the past year or so, and the concert was quite the culmination of our newfound love.

Going into the evening, I was very familiar with the work of Ryan Scott Oliver and Kerrigan and Lowdermilk; semi-familiar with Joe Iconis, Pasek and Paul, and Nick Blaemire; and not at all familiar with Adam Gwon. The combination of songs allowed each composer to have their moment in the spotlight, highlighted by a FABULOUS lineup of performers. It's ridiculously exciting that so many incredible young artists are so involved in the future of musical theater, and we really enjoy seeing so many of the same artists returning time and time again to perform the work of such talented composers.

Highlights by composer:

- Adam Gwon's "I'll Be Here," sung by Everyday Rapture's Betsy Wolfe, left my jaw hanging on the floor. Ms. Wolfe's endearing performance was so real, both in the song's tender beginning and painfully tragic ending.

- I had never gotten to see the talented Krysta Rodriguez perform live, besides in the ensemble of In The Heights, and her rendition of Joe Iconis's "Lisa" was gorgeous and powerful, and a nice addition to having heard Mr. Doyle sing the same song at his show. (Her abbreviated version within the opening number of "Blue Hair," a song she's performed in the past, was quite fierce as well.)

- Alex Brightman and Steven Booth delivered one of the more hilarious numbers of the night with Pasek and Paul's "Pretty Sweet Day." A male perspective on what it's like to watch your friends grow up provides an opportunity for heartfelt laughs, and the chemistry between Mr. Brightman and Mr. Booth emitted the aura of a true friendship.

- I was thrilled to hear "Open Road," one of my favorite numbers from Nick Blaemire's Glory Days, performed by the terrific Curt Hansen. His voice is deeper, and has a bit more of an edge to it, than Jesse Johnson, who originated the role and performs the song on the cast recording, which I really enjoyed.

- Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "Two Strangers" has been a favorite of mine since Morgan Karr, Jay Johnson, and Matt Doyle performed it at Birdland back in March, and is absolutely enrapturing live. Three of the most talented actors in the New York theater scene, performing an intensely beautiful song with incredible harmonies...what more could you ask for? We particularly enjoyed Mr. Karr's excellent diction on the line, "Whiskey makes you brooD, buT," as well as the acapella section of the song that ascends, fades, and reascends to the line, "We cannot sleep." Gorgeous.

- I'm honestly not sure that I can pick a favorite out of the three Ryan Scott Oliver songs from the night. We were not disappointed by Emma Hunton and Matt Doyle's premiere of "Twisted Teeth"; the lyrics and rhythms are dangerously suggestive, and the rhyming of "lovin'" and "coven" is pretty genius. Alex Brightman's "Lost Boy," shortened to fit into an integrated sequence with a video promotion for NewMusicalTheatre.com, left me with chills, particularly with the way he roughened his voice over the course of "These people aren't mine/This family isn't mine." And "The Ballad of Sara Berry"...what to say. We've been slightly obsessed with the song for months; it was insanely fierce, but we already knew that it would be. Mr. Johnson's addition of "What a bitch" leading into the climax of the song was BRILLIANT and had us doubled over in laughter. We were glad to have the opportunity to chat briefly with Lindsay Mendez after the show and express how much we enjoyed her performance of the song, as well as in Everyday Rapture.

Watching the entire cast and creative team take the stage for the encore of Joe Iconis's "The Goodbye Song," a song I'd grown fond of via John Gallagher Jr., was an overwhelming feeling of pride and sheer love for life. So many talented people in the same place (and the same place as us, no less) was hard to take in. Ms. Mendez and Mr. Johnson led the song with unabashed joy, and it was thrilling to hear Mr. Joe Iconis himself pick up a section of the song. I thought the stage floor would collapse when the entire cast rocked out the ending.

Now that I've rambled on about my love and appreciation for all of the individuals named above, and listened to "Chilling the Regrets" and "Not a Love Story" more times than I care to admit, I think I've broken our record for Longest Blog Post Ever. At least there could not be a more deserving topic for such a lengthy recap (bordering on love letter?). Watching the development of each and every composer and performer we've had the honor to see over the past few weeks is certain to carry us into the future of the theater world we care so much about.

Tony Nomination Day - Christmas Morning for Theater People

So, today was Tony Nomination Day. Michelle and I have decided that it's freaking exhausting. Not only did we wake up super early (some of us after a whole four hours of sleep thanks to studying for a final which will remain nameless) to watch the nominations be announced live (by the way, Lea Michele looked super gorgeous as usual, but could Jeff Daniels have looked and sounded any more bored? I don't think so) but then we had to deal with all the complaining and general "WTFness" that followed. To be sure, we were stunned at some of the categories, but now that we've taken the time to reflect, we've calmed down a little.

First of all, we love the Ragtime love. Unfortunately, we never got to see it before it closed, but we've heard nothing but good things about it and hope that it wins Best Revival, acting awards, etc. It was refreshing to see the nomination committee remember the shows that unfortunately closed too soon.

Best Musical seems like a bit of a mess fest. Obviously, we're rooting hard for American Idiot because we're both kind of obsessed (and by kind of, we mean that it's all we've been listening to for a solid three days). But Fela! and Memphis also got a lot of nominations, and it seems Million Dollar Quartet got nominated as a result of a relatively weak season for original musicals, as the majority of things we've heard about it could be summed up by the phrase "hot mess." Personally, I'm hoping American Idiot wins. While it's score may not be "original," I do think it's one of the most original shows this season in terms of concept and execution, and the fact that it's one of the first musicals to bring straight up angst to Broadway. I would have also loved to see Everyday Rapture get a nomination, but I'm thrilled that Sherie Rene Scott got the recognition she deserves for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and for Best Book of a Musical along with Dick Scanlan. Both nominations were well-deserved.

However, we do have a few quibbles with the nominations, and the biggest one centers around one musical genius known as Tom Kitt. Before nominations were even announced, Michelle and I had agreed that Mr. Kitt was a lock for a nomination and a win for his brilliant, beautiful orchestrations for American Idiot. Heck, we thought he might even get nominated for Everyday Rapture as well. Imagine our surprise this morning, then, when we realized that Mr. Kitt had not been nominated for either show.

...Seriously Tony committee? Are you deaf? Did you actually see American Idiot or Everyday Rapture and/ or listen to their cast recordings? The man is a freaking genius! His orchestrations for both shows are amazing (particularly for "21 Guns" and "Whatshername" from American Idiot) and you didn't nominate him? What, just because he has a Tony already and won a Pulitzer Prize, you couldn't nominate him for another award? Do you not want him to run out of space on his Shelf of Really Prestigious Awards too soon? Are you just leaving room for all the awards he is sure to win in the future? I want a reason. Not nominating him makes no sense. Sure, the show wasn't eligible for Best Original Score, but the music is the most powerful part of the show, so why not recognize the music in the category it is eligible for? I am just really stunned and shocked by this omission.

The other major quibble Michelle and I have is the lack of a Best Choreography nod for Steven Hoggett for his incredible work for American Idiot. I get that the choreography may not be the more traditional dancing of Broadway musicals, but it is undeniable that the choreography for this show perfectly captures the rage and love of this piece (see what I did there?) The movement of the cast in all of the numbers is appropriate to the setting and the song, and no other show on Broadway had to choreograph a number in which both cast members flew around stage on harnesses. Also, the choreography for "Whatshername" pretty much blew our collective mind once we realized that it incorporated choreography from pretty much every other in the show. It was like an epiphany... one second we were just watching the show, and then the next we were like "Did you see...? That was choreography from the beginning of the show?! That shit is insane!" For reals - that boy deserved a nomination.

So what is the end result of our reflection and analysis of the Tony nominations? Apathy. Honestly, besides Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Leading Actress in a Musical, and maybe Best Featured Actor in a Musical, (for American Idiot, Sherie Rene Scott and Dick Scanlan, Sherie Rene Scott, and Bobby Steggert, respectively), I really don't care one way or the other who wins what. I suppose I want Bill T. Jones to win for his direction of Fela!, and Angela Lansbury is always a hoot when she wins an award, and of course it would be awesome if American Idiot one for the technical categories it was nominated for, but overall I'm somewhat disappointed with this year's nominations. I wouldn't begrudge anyone a nomination (although last year's total snub of Aaron Tveit came close), but this was kind of a weak year for musicals, especially original musicals. Here's hoping next year's Tonys will be more exciting.