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Fame & Fortune: Rocker Duncan Sheik

In the annals of great comebacks, few have been as fun to watch as the recent triumph of Duncan Sheik.

After hitting big with his 1996 debut album, which spawned the hit single "Barely Breathing," Sheik continued making music with nary the success or commercial appeal of that debut. But if his subsequent releases failed to capture the public's imagination, Sheik was fanning his own imagination with an under-the-radar foray into theater, collaborating with poet and writer Steven Sater on several musical projects. Their major collective effort, eight years in the making, was "Spring Awakening," which -- after numerous workshops and starts and stops -- finally hit Broadway late last year and since has done nothing less than revolutionize the form.

After opening to some of the greatest reviews in Broadway history, many of which credited the show with bringing modern music and sensibilities to an institution badly in need of both, "Spring Awakening" was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, and walked off with eight.

Bankrate spoke with Sheik three days before the Tony ceremony, a period of time he described as "exciting, nerve-wracking and its own weird kind of torture."

Bankrate: How did you connect with "Spring Awakening?"

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Duncan Sheik: Steven Sater, the writer of the show, is a fellow Buddhist practitioner, and we met through the lay Buddhist organization we belong to. We had a conversation about what we were up to in our creative lives and Steven had a play called Umbrage in a little theater in my neighborhood. He asked me to set to music a lyric he had in the play, and after that he started faxing me lyrics that were related to this piece. That material became my third album on Nonesuch Records called "Phantom Moon." While we were writing and recording that, he gave me a translation of the original "Spring Awakening," and said he had an idea of making a musical out of it. So I read the play. I thought it was very strange and eccentric and fascinating and intense, and a lot of it very beautiful. We proceeded to talk about how we might create songs in the context of this narrative, and what type of songs they might be, and then we got together with (director) Michael Mayer. We did our first workshop in 1999 in La Jolla, Calif., and it's been an eight-year saga with many twists and turns. We were going to be on the season for (New York's) Roundabout Theater in 2003, but for a variety of reasons they took us off their schedule. We thought the show might never see the light of day, but we were very lucky in that Tom Hulce came along and resuscitated the piece, organizing a one-night-only concert version of this at Lincoln Center in early 2005, which led to the Atlantic Theater production last summer.

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