American Idiot on Broadway closes tomorrow, April 24, 2011, after 400+ performances. What a long, strange trip it’s been and a pleasure watching the show develop from Berkeley to Broadway and move on to the silver screen. The last chapter from album to Broadway to screen is in the works, with Tom Hanks producing, Michael Mayer on as director, and negotiations happening between Hanks’ Playtone Productions, Universal Studios and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay Milk, and writes the HBO show, Big Love.
The movie is still in the negotiation phase, but if I were a betting woman, I’d say a movie adaptation of American Idiot will happen sooner rather than later. In the meantime… the Broadway show is closing, and while a part of me is greatly saddened, another part of me is satisfied with the fun and successful run. Broadway shows close, it happens all the time.
In my mind, the show experienced its closing when Billie Joe, Michael Esper, John Gallagher, Jr., Christina Sajous, and Stark Sands left the company in February, especially when Esper, Gallagher and Sajous left and they were in the original Berkeley cast. I was lucky to see Van Hughes play the role of Johnny a lot since John Gallagher, Jr., left. I love John, he’s the most amazing human being on earth, but I’ve had a great time watching Van play Johnny over these last few months. While I think that Hughes is a solid replacement for Johnny’s role, I miss how fast Christina could whip around and hit that high note in “Extraordinary Girl” while spinning in the air; I miss Stark’s amazing voice and stint as Tunny; and I miss Michael Esper’s heartfelt melancholy as Will on that damned couch. Don’t get me wrong, Justin Guarini, Declan Bennett, and last night’s Will, Jason Kappus, have been great, but Michael… Fucking… Esper… sigh… will always be Will to me. As the Frustrators say… “all good things… must end,” and a year’s run on Broadway is a hella long time for a show in B’way years.
Endings bring new beginnings, and for John Gallagher, Jr., it brought a role in the critically acclaimed, Jerusalem, which I saw in previews recently and quite enjoyed. I haven’t gotten to see Michael Esper in Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide yet at the Public Theater, nor Mary Faber in How to Succeed in Business or Sajous in Baby, It’s You yet, but I will… once AI closes and I have cash again. While there are new adventures to bring on, I will never experience again a Broadway show like American Idiot. First of all, I’ve never been heavily invested in Broadway’s life as an experimental theater student back in the day, and frankly, there hasn’t been a show that has caught my attention on Broadway like American Idiot has…. and never will again. Of course, being that I’m a Green Day fan, the show has an extra special touch to me, but being that I’m also a huge fan of theater though not of the Broad Way, it has helped me to appreciate it a little more though I will sadly, never fall in love with the Great White Way.
Back in the day, when I was in theater school at New York University, I did a play that was a in classroom-workshop for three months and then performance for two weeks called Danton’s Death, directed by Anne Bogart. It was an incredible time for me and my fellow actors, just learning our craft, and one of those periods of time were you work on a show or project for many months and your fellow performers and co-collaborators become a family, with a rich, tight bond. Many of the people from this show drifted away after many years, but we’ve managed to say hello here and there and cherish every second of that time we spent together.
Dogtags by Abbey Fox. Photo by Michelle Lawlor, Lucky 17 Photography
Billie Joe posted a really lovely Tweet last night about the nature of seconds over the next four shows to closing tomorrow night at 7:30 PM in New York City on 4/24/2011… and it reminds me of those Pinhead Gunpowder dogtags that Abbey Fox made so long ago with the saying, “Every Second.” For the cast and creators of the show and those of us, whether near or far, who have grown to feel like American Idiot is a family, of sorts, it will be a sad time indeed to see this phase of life end. All I can say is thanks, Broadway, for making it possible. Thanks for all of the good times, excellent music, hi-jink shenanigans, fucking up of Broadway, introduction of awesome actors, musical gigs from the talented cast as well as their voices singing Green Day’s songs, Billie Joe’s introduction to theater (may he come again in another show or write one!), and all of the St. Jimmies, and of course, Green Day itself for creating those very seconds that will be missed. Missed but not forgotten, even as they fade away into memory.
I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just say, bon voyage until the next creative phase comes around!
Green Day Mind American Idiot Post Highlights and Green Day Authority Podcast
Podcast 37 - American Idiot Musical Broadway Finale, now for The Silver Screen with Guest, Green Day Mind!
New York Daily News article on the Greenday.com site - Click for full article, that interview from the early 1990s were Green Day talks about their musical, and hot pics of John and Rebecca!
Here’s some blog posts that I’ve written over the last year about the Broadway opening, the American Idiot talkbacks, etc, in case you want to relive those seconds. But first… My favorite seconds… my blog being mentioned at the American Idiot talkbacks:
Green Day Mind mentioned at American Idiot talkbacks, September 2010
I also quite enjoyed being in the New York Daily News with Mike Chickenman and Nicole Gary so long ago, before the show opened, which made it onto GreenDay.com, too!
Tony Vincent, Billie Joe Armstrong, Joshua Kobak, Andrew Call. I’ve been fortunate to see these four men perform St. Jimmy in American Idiot. My heart belongs with the St. Jimmy of Billie Joe Armstrong, while my head belongs to Tony Vincent. Armstrong brings himself to the role, as he is St. Jimmy, and he’s got the gritty balls to grab the audience by the throat and throttle them with his electricity. Plus, he just knows how to sing the songs that he’s spent so much blood and sweat writing and singing. Vincent, who left the show at the of end of 2010 after originating the role in Berkeley and Broadway, brought a magnificent voice and a slick and evil characterization to St. Jimmy. He was my favorite in the show even when I saw it back in Berkeley so long ago in September 2009. Kobak and Call stepped in as Vincent’s understudies for two shows that I saw, and while I thought their performances were solid (Kobak brought a bit of Vincent with him, while Call was hulking and sinister), they were not Vincent and Armstrong.
Now, there’s a fifth St. Jimmy, and her name is Melissa Etheridge.
Tonight’s performance was her first in an actual role on Broadway. She performed with the Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet, for a one-night jam performance back in June, so tonight was her actual debut as an actor. I’ve been a great proponent of the casting of Etheridge in the role. I love the non-traditional casting that American Idiot seems to be striving for, as they head into the days where Billie Joe Armstrong (who rejoins the cast from February 10th to February 27th) will permanently leave the role. I’ve heard rumors that they are contemplating various performers to take over the role after Armstrong leaves, and those of us who hang around the stagedoor talking to each other other joke about Keith Richards or Johnny Depp appearing. When Etheridge was announced, I was thrilled, not only because she was a woman, but she also has a great voice and excellent stage presence as a musician.
She started off with a burst of vibrant energy at the lyrics that introduce St. Jimmy to the audience… “Coming at you on the count of 1,2,1,2,3,4!”… as the audience, many of whom where regular suspects in attendance, shouted out the count along with Johnny (played by Van Hughes tonight since John Gallagher, Jr., is on vacation). It was a brilliant entrance and then… boom… for the first lines that she sang (“My name is Jimmy and you better not wear it out… Suicide commando that your momma talked about… King of the forty thieves… And I’m here to represent… The needle in the vein of the establishment), Etheridge completely lost the fast-paced rhythm. It was a bit shocking, but she ended the song on a strong note.
From that point on, I was worried that she would lose the pace again. After all, the music to American Idiot is fast pop-punk, and it’s faster than anything that Etheridge has ever put out and a completely different style and tempo. She never lost the pace again, but one thing that was noticeably different for serial attendees like me, was that the music had been slightly re-scored to fit her voice and rhythm. In essence, that’s ok, but I’m so used to hearing Armstrong or Vincent keeping up the pace that it bothered me a little bit. Her musical styling is so much different from the world of pop-punk, that there were moments were she wanted to bring her own voice and style into play, but the music of American Idiot doesn’t really allow for that.
Melissa Etheridge as St. Jimmy -- Photo by Paul Kolnik
Her best songs were “Know Your Enemy” and the Homecoming movement, “The Death of St. Jimmy,” both of which she knocked out of the house, particularly the latter. She brought a subtle nuance to the movement and less of the crazed and funny stylings of Armstrong or the evil intent of Vincent. For those who know the show, Johnny and St. Jimmy take their shirts off and draw hearts with lipstick on their chests. It’s easy for a guy to take their shirt off onstage (I’ve played a role naked once and let me tell you, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do as a woman), so instead of going shirtless, she took off an overshirt and revealed a t-shirt underneath that had a pre-drawn, bleached outline of the heart on it which she then traced. While the t-shirt was cool (I want one), the action itself unfortunately didn’t work for me as a staged moment.
I’m happy that American Idiot took the chance with Etheridge, a woman just a little older than me who has an amazing voice and exceptional stage presence. For her first night performing in such a role, I think that she did a good, if not exceptional job and the novelty of the gender-switch certainly works. She has huge shoes to fill and it’s probably a bit unfair to compare her with other St. Jimmys, but unfortunately, it’s a natural thing to do. Her chemistry and connection with Hughes was a little non-existent, but that also might be because it’s their first times together in front of an audience and Hughes hasn’t played the role of Johnny for very many performances himself. I do like the way he performs some of Johnny’s monologues, particularly before “Whatsername,” but I found myself wondering how Gallagher and Etheridge would have performed the show together.
On the whole, a female St. Jimmy works, though Etheridge (to me) lacks a bit of the power and fire that other St. Jimmys have brought to the role. I also didn’t see her as the character of St Jimmy, but as Melissa Etheridge performing the songs of St. Jimmy. Hopefully after one show under her belt, she’ll be able to quickly develop more characterization and less of a sketch of St. Jimmy. For hardcore Etheridge fans, she’s a must-see, by far.
ThatGirlAllison wrote a review here of the show and took a video of Etheridge’s Good Riddance encore, below:
Special thanks to Team Spider for sending in the video below!
Team Spider is a local punk bike activist group here in New York City. They are hardcore proponents of the right to free assembly, and are participants in the Critical Mass bike rides that take place here in the city and around the world. I believe that they are also part of Time’s Up, a local environmental direct action group here in New York, and participate in the heart of New York’s punk scene, C-Squat on Avenue C. I’ve been to C-Squat a few times lately, and have seen some excellent shows. While I stick out like a sore thumb, being that the venue is crusty punk, and I’m totally a middle-aged woman trying to hold onto youth, lol, everyone has always been super nice and friendly. I admire their stance, and frankly, courage, in regards to life. I couldn’t live the life, but I have to say thanks to such groups who keep it real, taking action against what they see as injustices in the world in regards to social issues.
Anyway, they got Front Row AA tickets to American Idiot recently. While they did not enjoy the show as much as a fan of it would like them to, they did take a great video of Mike Dirnt playing with Billie Joe Armstrong on 1/22/11 at the St. James Theater.
Special thanks to Team Spider for sending in the video!
In reading their review, looking at it as they do from the stance of street activism and the life of punks, they take exception to a lot in the show. In fact, they hate it! And it’s ok. Not everyone will love American Idiot, and surely, some folks won’t even like it. I remember the first time that I saw it in Berkeley, I had such conflicts with the production that I had to get drunk that first night in September 2009. Since then I’ve fallen in love with the production, but it’s taken me a long time to reconcile my not-so-in-love-with-Broadway feelings to my so-in-love-with-the-music feelings. Most of all, I go for the music, which has always been the star of the show to me, even beyond Billie Joe making his appearances as St. Jimmy. I’ve also been able to see how the performers have developed their characters, and to appreciate the hybrid opera/concert/musical experience.
Of course, I wish Team Spider had liked it, but looking at the show from a real-life view from the street, any production on Broadway is so far away from C-Squat on Avenue C, that I’m just glad that they went! I would take exception to one thing, though: I don’t think that Green Day did American Idiot on Broadway for the money, which is just another way to accuse them of selling out. I do think they did it for the love of creating. Of course, money doesn’t hurt, but for a production that has barely made its initial costs back (and I’m assuming that it has by now) hasn’t made its initial costs back at this point, implying that they possibly did it for money is pretty far from the truth. Though of course, royalties are always cool.
BJA "Goodnight New York" Lyrics Owned by Mary Rosenblatt
Back in late September-October 2010 when Billie Joe Armstrong first performed in American Idiot for a week on Broadway, he ended his run on October 3. That night he penned a little song and sang it to New York City before the Good Riddance encore. No one knew then, not even him, that he was going to come back for two months in 2011 to star in the show as St. Jimmy. I went to a lot of the shows that week for fear of never seeing him perform again in the show. Hearing him sing this little song live was one of those bittersweet moments that you only get once or so in a lifetime. Sweet because it was a love song to my city of New York and the amazing experience of the theater, and bitter because all fleeting moments of pure happiness are like that in the end.
The song was called, Goodnight New York.
“I left my blood like bullets over broadway… the fire of the footlights at the St. James… with broken in legs and roses over New York… these goodnight songs of long lost love and war… But I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive like suicide… So goodnight, goodnight, New York.”
The tune possessed a strain of both joy and melancholy that cut right through my heart. Sometimes when I’m really down in New York (as has been the case a lot this winter, particularly since the holiday season started), I repeat in my mind the lyrical refrain, “But I’m alive… I’m alive… I’m alive like suicide… .” I grab onto it like a lifeline so that I hold on and hold out for yet another winter of being alive. Winter is my least favorite season and I get all kinds of down throughout it. The lyric has helped me to fiercely remember the actual joy of life and encourages me to grab onto every bit of it through the tough times, as well as the good ones, that I can.
The lyric itself is a bit of a puzzle and has an odd dichotomy. How can anyone be alive or find life through suicide? What is the nature of that state of being? Is it a metaphorical case of leaving one facet of your life behind and steadfastly screaming out in amazement at the very fact of being alive, or finding life through ending it? No, certainly not the latter example. He sang, “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive” so emphatically that it cancels out all thoughts of a real suicide. “Alive” sounds like one of those screams of urgency to “rally out the demons of your soul,” not to give up, certainly. It’s a problematic lyric, much like a Japanese koan puzzle or a quote by the Iranian/Persian poet and mystic, Rumi. We all know how much Billie Joe hearts Rumi.
Back to that night in October: Mary Rosenblatt was sitting at the very front of the St. James in Row AA. Mary brought with her a single red rose to give to Billie Joe. After the encore, she gave him the single rose and he ended up giving her the lyrics.
I know Mary from here and there. I saw her and asked if I could take photos of the lyrics, one of which I put up on Plixi that night. Mary was so happy and shocked, and a little dazed at the same time! What a wealth of emotions and memories that one little sheet of torn-off legal paper can give to one person, let alone to people all over the world.
BJA Lyrics with American Idiot Pic - Photo by Mary Rosenblatt - Click to view
I’m an archivist, someone who takes care of the correspondence, photos, audio and video of people and institutions. I’ve held numerous kinds of documents in my hands, from the American Revolution and the Civil War, from famous activists, presidents, and performers. When I briefly held Billie Joe’s lyrics in my hands, the only thing I thought was how, in an instant, one piece of slightly torn paper with scribbles on it can go from the mundane to something that is worth framing and keeping safe for Mary’s lifetime and beyond. This one piece of paper, with scratched out words and chords, is one of those pieces of paper.
After the show, I sent Mary some special archival polyester sheets and an acid-free folder to keep the lyrics safe and free from damage until she could get the sheet properly framed, which she recently did. The framed lyric sheet is now somewhere on her wall, a wonderful piece of instant history. I can see it one day being exhibited in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Goodnight, New York Snapshot of Mary's Lyrics Taken by GDM After the Show
Goodnight, New York Snapshot of Mary's Lyrics Taken by GDM After the Show
Full video of “Good Night, New York,” sung by Billie Joe Armstrong on October 3, 2010, shown giving Mary the lyrics. Watch for the funny moment with him giving the guitar away, too. It had a transponder in it, and there was a slight hullabaloo when the person who got it wanted to keep the guitar, but the stage hands had to take the transponder out first. She did get the guitar (or one similar to it) at the end of the night.
I’ve noted a few times over the last year when a specific segment of Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdowntour ended [LINK HERE], and this time, it’s the complete end of the tour. Green Day finished off their tour last Friday in Costa Rica and did an amazing bunch of old songs, including a full band version of “Christie Road,” and “Brat” and probably the most rare song of them all, “I Was There.” [SEE SETLIST HERE] According to DJ ROSSSTAR, a mega-fan and host of LA’s The Punk Rock Show [LINK HERE], the band hasn’t performed “I Was There” since John Kiffmeyer left the band as Green Day’s drummer. I would have hocked my Grandma to be there in Costa Rica to hear that one live, but alas, I was not there.
While Billie Joe and the band absolutely hates Youtube and concert videos, I hope that one pops up of “I Was There.” Unfortunately at this point, the only videos that have turned up on Youtube have been of the set’s regular mainstays. Though one person did capture “Christie Road” so far. It’s not the best of recordings, as happens on Youtube, but I literally cried hearing it, but hey, that’s just me.
I’ll Meet You at Christie Road – Green Day in Costa Rica – christian1449
If “I Was There” pops up on the ‘tubes, I’ll probably have to go to the insane asylum and complete my personal 21st century breakdown there.
This is the Future
There is plenty more in the future to come from Green Day, so even if the tour is over, let’s not be sad, let’s celebrate it, not mourn it. In fact, pretty soon, we will be able to look forward to a few things over the next year including:
*Some time in the next year, Green Day will release a new live album featuring songs from the band’s 21st Century Breakdown Tour. Maybe a DVD, too!
*Green Day is already working on a new album.
*American Idiot on Broadway is extended to the end of April 2011, as a new batch of tickets for the show were recently released. For more information on tickets sales, go the official American Idiot on Broadway site.
Who knows what else the band has in store for us, too? Heck, maybe a little Foxboro Hot Tubs record? Maybe Billie Joe will go back to Broadway for a bit? Maybe Mike Dirnt and his bandmates, Jason Chandler, Art Tedeschi and Terry Lineham, from The Frustrators will finish their new album, too! So, don’t be sad, be happy! Celebrate the future! It is bright!
Green Day Fans Celebration on May 28, 2011
Coming up for fans in May 28, 2011, there will be a huge Green Day fan and environment celebration, put together by fans for fans! The event is still in the planning stages, so I don’t have much to write about so far, but once there are final details, I’ll post something about it. The Green Day Authority may also be providing information on this event, too.
The Future of Green Day Mind
Just a note on this blog: I said I was going to end the blog when the tour ended, but I’ve decided instead to expand it a bit beyond Green Day and write about other bands, theatrical events, and just plan life crap, too. So, if you have enjoyed anything from this blog over the last months, please continue to visit and thanks for stopping by. I’ve always appreciated the positive feedback I’ve gotten from the blog, and your comments have always made my day. If you’d like to write anything about bands, fanzines, concerts, crazy theater or anything of the like, feel free to send in stuff. While I may not use everything depending on the writing and the topic, I’d love to share the best of your opinions, new discoveries of bands and events, and happy fan stuff, Green Day-related and otherwise. Thanks!
Broadway Billie in My Red Hat by Erial Grove - London, O2, Oct. 24, 2009
DATELINE OCTOBER 24, 2009, LONDON
I posted the following on Feb. 23, 2010:
When I saw Green Day at the London O2 back in October, I brought a shiny red hat all the way from New York for Billie. When he asked for it during “King for a Day,” it was a semi-perfect toss and a great catch and he just looked like the perfect Broadway showman. The video below isn’t the best, but at about 3:58, you can see him catch it, parade around, and then do his best little James Cagney impersonation.
King for a Day – London at the o2 – October 24, 2009 – Bad Video, but it shows Billie catching my red hat at 3:58 to near end of video.
At the first O2 show the night before, I stood for the first time near the end of the catwalk. It was a spot that was enjoyable but I won’t do again. I like to see all of the band, and not just BJA. I had my “Green Day’s American Idiot” t-shirt on from the Berkeley show and someone had given Billie a pink fuzzy hat (I think it was my friend Gerg). The next thing I know, he looked at me with a slightly wicked smile and literally did a James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” move with the hat in his hand. I swear to God he saw my shirt. I had by this time seen five Green Day shows and I had NEVER seen him do this move before… straight outta B’way. I still crack up with laughter when I think of it.
Broadway Debut – Bring It On
The move that Billie Joe did so briefly at that London show on Oct. 23, 2009 at the end of the catwalk will never be forgotten in my mind. If you’ve seen American Idiot on Broadway, it’s the move Johnny and St. Jimmy do during the “St. Jimmy” song line, “it’s comedy… and tragedy…” The two move together in old-fashioned vaudeville-style unison, swinging their arms back and forth in unison and moving their leg simultaneously. It’s a hard move to explain, but if you’ve seen the show, you know what I mean.
Now, Billie Joe Armstrong will do that move onstage all this week, as he takes on the role of St. Jimmy for Tony Vincent, who, for personal reasons and vacation, will be taking a two-week break from the show. I hope all is well with you, Tony! Here’s Tony doing St. Jimmy in Times Square recently. Vincent’s understudies, Joshua Kobak and Andrew Call, will cover the role from Oct. 5-10.
Tony Vincent Performs “St. Jimmy” in Times Square with Cast of American Idiot – blockhead29
Rumors of Billie Joe appearing in the musical surfaced on a Broadway message board a day prior to the American Idiot talkbacks that took place last week, 9/14-9/19. It was nothing much, just a poster saying that the press release would go out in a day or two. When nothing materialized, we all took it for one of the many rumors that come out about Green Day and the show, but then, another rumor came out that Green Day was performing in Boston at a secret show earlier this week, and combined with some other things, my Spidey-sense started kicking up. Something was afoot, and soon, we would all find out.
Twitter was going a bit crazy on Friday, when someone from the Twitterverse tweeted that “my coworker’s husband made this really cool lipstick for billie joe armstrong that writes in blood. He’s going to use it in AI tomorrow!” That tomorrow would have been Saturday, and there wasn’t any clue about it and didn’t Billie Joe go home like he said he would just the week previously? The plot thickened when he was spotted in the West Village on Saturday (yes, somehow, people know where he is in public, lol), but then Saturday’s performance came and went, and no Billie Joe in the show.
Unfortunately, once the lipstick information got on Twitter, all bets started being called off as to whether the information would stay secret or not. In fact, it may have prompted (or may not have prompted), Billie Joe to Tweet on Saturday:
You got a secret, Billie Joe? Really? Lol. What could it be? Well, actually, it could have been two things, the first about him appearing in the show, and the second, there was a strange little piece out of nowhere that Green Day was performing a secret show in Boston on 9/25, in the same place where they were arrested so many years ago for public indecency and inciting a riot. As the Twitterverse picked up more steam regarding the rumor of BJA appearing in the show — some of us started joking about it. Somehow, this entire announcement was beginning to feel a bit like the crazy announcement of the Foxboro Hot Tubs shows back in April when DJ Rich Russo announced the Bowery Electric show. Chaotic and crazy, but in the end, wonderful.
Yesterday, Sunday, 9/26, the charity event, Broadway Cares, an Actor’s Equity Foundation that raises money to support AIDS research, held their annual street fair and event. They had some excellent merchandise up for auction from various Broadway shows, including this beautiful musical phrase from “Good Riddance,” signed by Billie Joe:
Good Riddance Musical Phrase Signed by Billie Joe Armstrong - Broadway Cares Auction - Thanks to Plaid Ducky for the heads up!
Photographs with Billie Joe, John Gallagher, Jr., Stark Sands, and Tony Vincent were also supposed to happen yesterday, but things got lost in the crazy shuffle of the fair that occurred on 44th Street in front of the theater and Gallagher got stuck in traffic trying to get to the theater. (He tweeted about it yesterday, updating everyone on his whereabouts.) I guess because of all of the chaos, the photos didn’t happen, but the following did, and fans of Green Day heard it first, officially, which actually feels kinda special:
I’m gonna be playing the part of St. Jimmy in AI on broadway sept 28 thru Oct 3. All week! See ya there! Rage n love-billie joe about 19 hours ago via ÜberTwitter
BJA as St. Jimmy with My Green Lei - Albany, Times Union Center, July 25, 2009
So there you have it! Billie Joe, who from what I hear, has been thinking of playing this role since the show started, will finally go on in the part of St. Jimmy, and will make his Broadway acting debut from 9/28-10/3, for eight shows, and then off to South America for him and his bandmates for that leg of the 21st Century Breakdown tour.
Michael Mayer, at one of the talkbacks last week said that “BJA was the reincarnation of Al Jolson,” and I can see that, with a little James Cagney, and frankly, Marlene Dietrich thrown in, too. These three were great performers and showpeople, full of energy and verve from back in the day. While I’m not too impressed with Billie Joe’s acting chops, (he’s ok, and has appeared on a few shows here and there, though he does excellent voiceover work in John Roecker’s Live Freaky! Die Freaky!), I am completely impressed by his St. Jimmy chops, and I will never forget seeing him that first time in Albany last June 2009, with him wearing the silly green lei that I had brought for him, chewing up the stage as the enigmatic and crazed St. Jimmy. Literally, one of the most powerful performances of a song at a rock show that I have ever seen.
I didn’t think I’d be able to see Billie Joe in the part this week. I’m broke. Flat-out broke from my Green Day adventures of the last year, and I have no one to blame but myself… and Green Day, lol. But thanks to Nicole W-M, I’ll be seeing the show once this week, on Thursday, unless some miracle happens and I get to see it again. From what I understand, it’s already sold out since the official announcement went out after Billie Joe’s tweet.
Some Dude, aka, Billie Joe Armstrong - American Idiot Talkback, 9/19/10 - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Three Points - Brooklyn, Wednesday, 9/14/10 - Photo by GDM
Last week in New York began with a storm, literally. On Tuesday, September 14th, 2010, the day that Billie Joe Armstrong was to attend the first of a series of five American Idiot University Talkbacks — opportunities for students to hear the creative team and cast talk about the show and ask questions (a tradition on Broadway) — tornadoes touched down in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. The storm devastated the trees of our city landscape and caused a hella lot of damage. I can’t say it’s because Billie Joe, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool swept into town that day; they were already here. Billie Joe appeared at the Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon on Friday, September 10th, 2010. [VIDEO/DONATE HERE] On Monday, September 13th, 2010, Green Day, along with touring musicians, Jason White, Jason Freese and Jeff Matika, and the full cast of American Idiot performed “Last of the American Girls” at New York Jets stadium in New Jersey. [AUDIO/VIDEO HERE] I was originally unsure about the choice of songs until I saw the performance. LOTAG at a football game? Come on, it’s about girls, but frankly, it’s about powerful girls, and women that can blow up cars with the strength of their thoughts; have you seen the music video of it? Who needs football when you have that kind of power! [VIDEO HERE]
Green Day and Cast - New York Jets Stadium Opening - Photo GDA Picture Vault
Green Day and the cast sounded great, with the women of the cast surrounding the band, singing in harmony with Billie Joe’s lead and adding some intricate melodies (Tom Kitt arranged, perhaps?), even if their mics were a bit low. The boys of the American Idiot show? They were relegated to the back risers, rocking out and trying not to fall off at the same time. Billie Joe sounded, and frankly, looked, great. Like a rock star, cause he is one.
Billie Joe with PBR Cans for Autographs - Photo by Green Day Mind
There is another side to the dude, though, and over five nights, despite having a head cold, and ending with a huge appearance at the 92StY in a talk with Jujamcyn Theaters president, Jordan Roth, and AI director, Michael Mayer, Billie Joe Armstrong donned his flannels and his old man Kangol hat (which covered up the remaining vibrant and brassy blond still at the ends of his hair) and sat down and just talked about American Idiot, the album, and American Idiot, the Broadway show. Like a dude, who happened to have a show on Broadway, and feeling, in his own words, like a rookie again.
I would love to sit down and have a small group conversation with Billie Joe Armstrong about theater and performance. I love the theater, particularly experimental theater or anything that pushes the performance edge, but alas since that has a slim, if not zero percent, chance of happening, the next best thing was to spend five nights in the St. James Theater, three of them watching American Idiot, five talkbacks, and ending with the 92StY on Sunday, September 19th.
Two Nights with An American Idiot – Berkeley Repertory Theater – September 2009
Heart Like a Hand Grenade
When I saw American Idiot in Berkeley for two nights back in September of 2009, I was worried about two things: that I would hate the show and that my love and sense of experimental theater (which I suffer from acutely), would walk away feeling that the album American Idiot was slaughtered by Broadway. I am not a big fan of Broadway. Too much money and glitz and not enough shows that appeal to my sense of theatrical anarchy. My theater tends to lurk in dark and dank black boxes, with minimal theatrical assets. I’m always looking for the real and the crazy in a show, something that makes me look at the world in a different way, from a different angle. I’m a theater punk, what can I say? Don’t give it to me straight, give it to me strange and odd, is my theatrical motto.
I wrote about the show in a brutally honest way: the book needed growth and character/actor depth, but was essentially solid; the orchestration (and hence the music itself) was the star of the show; there was too much choreography that gave lip service to punk denizens; John Gallagher, Jr. wasn’t bringing the rage and love to the Johnny character; the set was brilliant and video outstanding; the female vocals were fabulous; and the director wasn’t necessarily the right man for the job, but he could sufficiently get the job done. What bothered me most was that the show did not bring the “rage and love” of the iconic heart grenade image of the American Idiot album. I wanted the line, “she’s holding onto my heart like a handgrenade,” made real. Pull that pin out and make it explode, just like the album and the songs as sung live by Green Day do. I wanted that. I didn’t get it from the overall production that first night. I knew, however, that it was in workshop form and still developing, but I was actually a bit panicked about the entire process of seeing the show. I had to have a few drinks afterward and a bit of a cry. [Read GDM Review here: Pt. 1 (Book); Pt. 2 (Arrangement and Cast); Pt. 3 (Choreography and Direction)]
Pull the Pin and See What Happens
On night two, I let the critic and punk theater snob in me go. I listened to the show and watched what I saw onstage from the standpoint of its star, the music and arrangement of American Idiot, and I knew that I would be in love by the time this punk rock opera came to Broadway.
Fast Forward to the Present
The Rookie Again (And What An Outfit) - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Since September 2009, I’ve seen the show a bajillion times on Broadway. I take every opportunity to tell my Broadway and theater friends to go and see it before it closes, which is currently scheduled for the end of January 2011 (though B’way shows can abruptly close prior to their official dates, so see it now!). The reaction from them has been mixed, but the majority are quite taken with it. My friend Yana Landowne, a director in New York City, recently told me that she saw the show and wept at the end. While she wasn’t absolutely familiar with the album prior to seeing the show, she told me that the music combined with the overall design and the enthusiasm of the cast, along with a powerful story of youth setting out on their own and failing, moved her more than anything she’s seen on Broadway in a long time. Yana and I were both members of the theatrical, satirical and political group, Billionaires For Bush during the 00’s, and we fought hard and long to bring the economic realities of the Bush Administration to the attention of America: the man was made by the elite and wealthy of this country and for those same people. His administration had nothing of good for the economic welfare of middle-class and lower middle-class Americans. We thought we could make a difference if we told the people what was happening, but alas, he was elected President again in 2004. For a long while, we felt like (and still do in many regards), utter failures in our attempts at life, just like Johnny, Will, and Tunny, the three lead characters of the show, with one failing at life in the big city, another suffering from being a clueless and stoned unexpected parent, and the third a kid caught up in the shiny glamor of televised reality teevee-war, who looses a leg, but gains the love of an Extraordinary Girl in the process. They left home and loss the game of life, but at the least they tried as hard or well as they could.
Last week, I saw American Idiot three times. By the time the show ended on the second night, from my seat in the balcony, I was crying from the emotional journey of the young adults onstage who had taken the show and pulled the emotional pin out of my bleeding heart. I’ve encouraged Green Day fans to see the show, too. Some of them are super enthusiastic, while others, not so much. I’ve read more than a few Green Day fans who despise the idea of American Idiot being on Broadway. They have only seen clips of the show on Youtube, or the cast singing with the band on the Grammies, the Tonys, or last last week at the New York Jets game, and because of whatever reasons (‘I want to see the band, not those cast members,’ ‘The actors are trying to get famous from Green Day,’ ‘I hate that Broadway musical shit,’ “The music is destroyed’), their minds are closed to the larger picture of what Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer have created: a modern-day opera of immediacy and relevancy that stays true to the music and ideas that we fell in love with from the album in the first place. It doesn’t destroy the original album but brings it literally, to life.
American Idiot University
American Idiot University with Panel and Set - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
The talkbacks during the week of September 14-19th, 2001, were pretty neat. I’ve noted a few times in posts how I sneaked into two of the talkbacks. I even told Tom Hulce that I sneaked into two, treating them as “second-acting it,” used by Broadway-goers to walk into a theater for the second act of a show. He said, “I understand, I’ve first-acted a few shows in my life. Thank you for coming.” I’ve spoken with Michael Mayer and a few of the cast members here and there at various events, but it was the first time that I had spoken with Hulce. Why I told him that, I don’t know, but I have the spirit and mind of Green Day: a tendency to say anything off the top of my head, and sneak to the pit from the lawn if you can; take the rules and bend them if you must. The opportunity to see a bunch of Green Day fans and hear Billie Joe Armstrong talk about the show was too great of an opportunity to let safely pass by.
On Friday, I found myself hanging out with Larry Livermore, along with Tony Anastasi from England, ToniAnn Graffigna from Staten Island, Lauren Banjo from New Jersey and a few other Green Day fans. I mentioned to Larry (who I’ve met here and there at shows in NYC) that I wanted to one day write academically about the show. When I said it, he scoffed under his breathe, and while at the time it hurt a bit, I had to realize who I was talking to, the man who gave the first incarnation of Green Day, Sweet Children and Green Day, their first starts back in day. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, and yes, he’s a punk, and he’s probably heard it all when it comes to Green Day and fans. I’ve often wanted to talk to him about the history of Green Day and East Bay punk, but I’m always afraid of getting that same scoffing reaction, so I never bring it up. Sadly.
David Cote, Time Out New York Head Theater Critic - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
David Cote, the lead theater critic of Time Out New York, moderated the talks. Over the five nights the panel included: Billie Joe Armstrong, director Michael Mayer, lightning designer Kevin Adams and set designer Christine Jones (both Tony Award winners for the show), arranger/orchestrator Tom Kitt, video/production designer Darrel Maloney, assistant choreographer Lorrin Lotarro, costume designer Andrea Lauer, music director Carmel Dean and assistant music conductor, Jared Stein, and actors John Gallagher, Jr., Michael Esper, Stark Sands, Tony Vincent, Declan Bennant, Ben Thompson, Gerard Canonico, Christina Sajous, and Alyssha Umphress. The second and fourth nights of talkbacks, I recorded the audio so that I could remember what was said. SundayMorning6AM from the Green Day Community YouTubed the event on 9/15/10, and you can watch the three parts here: Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 2.
American Idiot University Q&A
Below are paraphrased questions and answers of two of the talkbacks that I attended. I’ve transcribed things as well as possible, but hey, I do not get paid for this, so take it with a grain of salt at how completely accurate exact “ums” and y’knows” are. The majority of questions were asked by Cote. Please note for Green Day fans who may not be familiar with theater jargon, there is technical stuff about theater below in general, i.e., “ownership” means taking the play/musical form within yourself as an actor in a performance, going all out in portrayal of character and script; “movement,” is the contrast between ‘real’ everyday movement and that portrayed as stylized in a show, can be used in dance or non-musical performances as well as musical ones and comes primarily from experimental theater ideas.
I’ve taken the time out to transcribe two of these sessions because I feel it’s really important for Green Day and non-Green Day fans to understand where both Green Day and the cast are coming from… a place of love for what they have created. Of course, for those who haven’t seen the show, many things may not be understandable in terms of the stage action.
Of course, my personal highlight of the entire five nights is that my blog was mentioned as an opening comment on the second night. You can see that below.
Green Day Mind Blog Mentioned at American Idiot Talkbacks. Thank you, David! – Video by sundaymorning6am
Are the characters in the show punks by your definition?
Billie Joe Answers A Question - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Billie Joe:Not necessarily. I don’t think so. It’s like the outcasts come in all different forms, not necessarily a punk rocker, whether you are, I have no idea, all the other alternative lifestyles out there… I think from us, that’s our background for sure, and it’s ground zero for us, and we are like, the mafia, once you think you’re out, you’re back in.
Billie Joe on hearing a workshop of the show for the first time.
Billie Joe: … The first time everyone was sitting down and I didn’t know what to expect and I had a really bad hangover. So, I came in and I watched. We came in on the West Side Highway and it was slow and there was this big… very large man with his asscrack hanging out in a car that was stopped in front of us, ‘What the hell is this guy doing?,’ and we’d go and take off, and we actually get there and uh… I had a bagel and some Advil. So we were watching and all these voices came out with Tom Kitt who did all the musical direction, so all these voices came out, it was like whack-a-mole… y’know, out of nowhere, here’s this voice here and it’s coming all together, and it was just beautiful to hear the arrangements put in that way. And for a while I so wanted to get away from American Idiot because we were doing 21st Century Breakdown, but to hear it performed in that way, was just like, it was totally refreshed. And it was brand new to me.
Can you tell us a little how you first got introduced to American Idiot and what attracted you to it?
Michael Mayer, Director and Book Co-Writer, American Idiot - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Michael Mayer: I listened to the album when it first came out.. and I was driving everyday [in L.A. working on a movie]… and that was the CD I listened to in the car, pretty much non-stop for six weeks. Wherever I left off, I would drive and listen to it on the way back. And after a while I realized I was hearing a story inside it, and listening over and over to it again, and it started calling to me in the same way that a cast recording would call to me, like when I was a little fag back in Rockville MD, when I was listening to live show tunes, “Oh this is my favorite song, this is my favorite song.”… So it was this incredible collection of songs, but the story in it spoke to me, maybe because I’m from Rockville, MD (where one should not go back to) and moved to the city, and was like the character of Jesus of Suburbia, so I related to it. And it seemed really stage-worthy to me, and it felt like a punk rock opera, or rock opera, or something opera-ish.
Can you address the arc of the story, it starts with incredible dissatisfaction with suburban blandness, but ends with a homecoming. As someone that doesn’t speak too well of returning to Rockville, is there a message there?
Michael Mayer: … Where you come from is a little bit of who you are. And something essential gets lost in a person if they look for… something that… can’t be integrated into themselves, and these characters are all in danger of losing themselves. And part of what the homecoming is, is that they come back and reclaim something that is essential about themselves and may be the thing that will bring them to a better future than what they had before their journey.
David Cote to Darrel Maloney, video and production designer on the pattern and chaos of video used in the show.
Darrel Maloney: I think we all knew what “American Idiot” [the song] was going to look like, and how that was going to work, but then after that… I was kinda terrified whether the video screens would stay on after that and what’s that going to be and how people would react in front of this video that was happening. And oddly enough as it went on, we started adding more video, and what I realized was two things that people could [react to]: one was chaos and one was pattern, but if you turned a video monitor on to one side of the theater, people would look there and be distracted, but if you have 43 of them, they could actually sit back and watch all of them as a background to the actor.
Michael Mayer: You know what else was kind of cool that we discovered in the process was finding when the video projection would happen… on the walls, using the whole set as a screen because that changed how we would have to light everything and the staging. We thought early on [in the show] that we would use it more, but decided not until “Holiday,” until we were actually making a movie up there.
Lorrin Lotarro, assistant choreographer,on the rock concert-type movement in the show.
Lorrin Lotarro: We saw Billie Joe jump off the stage and into everybody’s arms and we decided to put that into the show, body surfing… into the show… The thing about [choreographer] Stephen Hoggett that is so brilliant, that he opened up my mind to what movement means, dance is movement, just simple movement, that it doesn’t mean that it has to be technical movement, and we had this group of amazing actors who were great movers, but if you asked them to warm up at the barre [a railing used by ballet dancers for warm-ups], they would bring in some beers. What Stephen did was to create a way of movement that meant something to the actors that everyone could do…. and [was worked on] collectively and collaboratively. Bring two moves into rehearsal that would bring out your idea of living in a small town, punching, anything you want… We faced each other in a circle and taught each other the movement…. The actors felt a real sense of authority, and I’ve never had to give a note on acting full out since they all felt a sense of ownership of the material.
Michael Esper (Will) on the violent (frenetic) movement in the show and how the actors work with it and not twist ankles. Esper noted that he had twisted both of his ankles during the show.
Michael Esper: We do feel a sense a ownership and we’ve created it as a sense of family and we became a family so easily, so it’s easy to… do it together and have a good time. Injuries are all worth it in the end because you are doing American Idiot.
Stark Sands on the development of his character, Tunny, who goes off to fight in the war and takes a wrenching personal journey in the process.
Mayer, Gallagher, Jr., Sands, and Vincent - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Stark Sands: I played a soldier a few times before this, and that really helped me sort of build the ideas of where he’s coming from. I’ve never played someone who joined up, they were already in to it. So that was very interesting investigating what would make someone want to… Michael was really great in helping me and allowing me to build this with his help in deciding why this guy would join up, why he would put himself out there like that. I was too scared to walk onstage and just sing pretty because otherwise… I found a way to make it meaningful for me and hopefully that carries out. It’s a really wonderfully rewarding journey to take, and at the end of it, I feel like I walk away with something… I’ve actually found something to take home and I don’t end up punching and kicking, up on the stage.
Billie Joe: There’s a lot of vets that have come to the show, and I’ve heard a lot of comments about his performance and how they relate to it. I think that’s a big deal, especially with a lot of these guys coming home right now.
John, your character loves and looses in a big way. Do you draw a lot of personal history from that?
John Gallagher, Jr.:Absolutely, as much as you can. In Johnny’s case, it’s rather extreme, I think… Johnny and the other characters are in a state of arrested development where, y’know, I’m 26 years old, and we decided that he’s about 25-26, at this point where he should be in a different kind of place in life, a much more developed and mature place, but for a variety of different reasons, he’s really stunted, he comes from this really broken family. It’s the love story that you find in a lot of adolescent kinds of films or plays or stories, that first love you find when you’re about 17-18 and you fall in love. I don’t think that his character, other than the camaraderie and the love that he shares from his brothers, his best friends, Will and Tunny… I don’t think that he’s ever been shown any real love since his father passed away at a young age. This is the story that we came up with for him, that’s only hinted at in those letters and journal entries. While that is kind of vague… we really wanted to make sure that was solid and that we had a full backstory [an actors ‘blueprint’ to a character]. And in his case, it’s really complicated because when you haven’t been given the tools to figure out how to love someone and be loved, it can be really messy. He’s going through this troubled time with this kind of split personality situation going on with St. Jimmy and this entity that is not real comes between them [Johnny and Whatsername] and ultimately tears them apart. But there is a lot to be learned from the love… and the loss.
The book [story of the show], the lines between the songs as well as the story that actually doesn’t get spoken, is that all from you, Michael? I know that there is a booklet from American Idiot?
Mayer:Once Billie first gave me the permission to go ahead and start dreaming this up in a real way, he made some materials available to me that I didn’t know about, including a special edition booklet of American Idiot [LINER NOTES HERE], that had these letters and journals entries that [Billie Joe] had written. I was like, oh, OMG, this is gold, y’know… I started playing with them right away and at first, I was extremely faithful to where they were in the booklet as they related to the lyrics. And then I started pulling them apart. By the time we came to New York, I gave some of them to the two other guys [Will and Tunny]… it was just Johnny at first… and then we started finding that we needed fewer of them and I basically changed a few little things here and there… but it’s all grounded in those little journal entries.
I want to ask about the audience reaction to the show. What’s the sort of thing that is happening at the stage door with people? What kind of reactions are you getting from fans?
Ben Thompson:[Gets joking sad face] They all hate it, it’s awful. [General awwh and laughter from audience] No, I mean tonight was a great example, you guys were incredibly exuberant, and I’ve found that, generally, to be the case. I’ve said it before, but we have two… main types of people coming to the show, we have theater fans, and then we have Green Day fans. [Wooo! ensues from audience] Many times at the stage door, people will be like, this is my first B’way show, or I’ve never heard their music before. A great example is my dad. He knew who they were from me, but he had never heard their music… and he now owns, I think, every album. So we are making Green Day fans into theater fans and theater fans into Green Day fans, so it’s like two different groups of people who you would never think could exist in the same world, and thanks to Billie and Michael, they do. [Applause]
Billie Joe:Speaking of fathers, Alysha’s dad surprised her the other day with a Green Day tattoo, a really, really, big one. Alysha tried to show us the tattoo on her cellphone; and related that her dad flew in for Monday Night Football and they were having lunch, and he showed her the tattoo. She literally thought that it was a decal at first. It is the Heart/Handgrenade image of American Idiot.
Stark Sands:And speaking of parents, that’s another thing I would add is that in addition to these two types of people that Ben is talking about, one thing that I really notice is that there are parents who bring their kids here who come out and will be very honest and say, “You know, I didn’t think I was going to like this, but it was awesome!” So that was another wonderful thing to change someone’s perspective for their 13th birthday or something.
I remember one of Michael’s previous shows was Spring Awakening. I wrote a book about it [Spring Awakening, In the Flesh by David Cote]. Parents and children talked about it after the show and the show is about adults exploiting children and children rebelling in various ways. In this, we only see the adults, but has there been some kind of dialogue about the world you’ve created?
Spring Awakening: In the Flesh by David Cote
Mayer: I certainly have seen a few conversations about drug use. I have certainly seen a few parents yanking some kids down the aisle when they see the syringe use, they panic a little bit, but the ones who stay, they see that there is a method to our madness in that regard… But other than that, by and large, it really isn’t about a generational disparity. It really isn’t. The adults that are referred to in this play are absent. It’s a very different world… it’s not about that struggle, it’s about people who should have individuated at this point anyway. It’s more about people becoming an adult as opposed to being a kid and moving into adolescence.
David Cote: I heard somewhere that the show has affected you, Billie Joe [Uh, probably he heard it on this blog?] in the sense that you have added the words [Rebecca Naomi Jones’] “Wake Up” to the song “Letterbomb,” live?
Billie Joe:We weren’t even playing Letterbomb. We’ve only played that song a few times since [it came out], but this last tour we ended up adding it, and I just ended up doing it cause Rebecca Naomi Jones is kinda badass…”
Billie Joe on what it is like to have his songs sung by women.
Billie Joe: Yeah… That was… yeah, that was nice. I remember when Mike first heard them and he said, ‘Wow, your songs sound better when they are sung by women.’ … These women can sing like acrobats, and it’s just beautiful…. Y’know… a lot… uh… They sound better than what I do. They are just beautiful singers, all around. Because of the arrangements, you don’t really know… I mean… Me and Mike and Tre are a three-piece and we are fighting to be heard. I think that’s been the main argument of our band, [us fighting to hear who will be louder]. So hearing arrangements with these women singing them, everything is almost like the music is pulled back and the vocals up in front, you just hear… it adds a whole new dimension, dynamic, and range. I mean, they can sing a frigging dictionary, it’s amazing.
WTF? Maloney, Armstrong, Mayer - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Iconic image of the album, a handgrenade with a bloody hand, what is the image about?:Billie Joe:Rage and Love. Heart, pull the pin, it’ll explode.”
Where did the idea come from?
X - Unclogged
Billie Joe:John Roecker [director of Live Freaky!, Die Freaky! and the unreleased Green Day documentary, Heart Like A Hand Grenade],… inspired by an illustration [Roecker] did of a bloody heart on an X album, and the American Idiot cover illustrator, Chris Bilheimer, came up with the image. Michael Mayer asked, “What came first, the lyric or the image?” Billie Joe: “The image came first, and since we had that, we changed the lyrics. In fact, I was talking with [cast member] Alysha Umphress and I told her that some of the lyrics got changed because of the art image and she asked me what lyric got changed and I said, ‘Well, “she’s holding onto my heart like a handgrenade, [laughter] and then I said… that’s uh, pretty much it.”
In terms of the original album, The Wall and Tommy and this show have a view of youth culture as perverted and also an attraction to a messianic figure, a sort of darkness, and militarism. Where the Wall and Tommy influences?
Billie Joe: “Yeah, sure, but I would say even before that… I would also say “A Quick One” by the Who… Every single part of that song is catchy; You take power pop to an extreme level, like a song “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick, super catchy chords, very melodic, three chord mayhem, that’s what’s we were trying to go for, very big, very broad strokes.”
Question for Sands, Gallagher, Vincent, Armstrong from 9/19/10 Talkback “Keeping the energy high, balancing rage and love, St Jimmy, meeting veterans, military and relatives” – NYCForest
Audience Question: Obviously the audience experience is quite different from a rock show vs a musical, and I had a hard time not moving my feet tonight. What do you think is gained in this adaptation to the stage and the audience member’s experience in a rock show and do you think anything is lost between the two?
Billie Joe:It’s just two different things altogether, really, cause it’s more storytelling here, where in a rock show it’s storytelling, but short storytelling or whatever, where people are… it’s just kinda people losing their shit. I would encourage people to do the same thing here, you don’t have to sit down here. Y’know…. I don’t know, I think there was a lot gained in this experience, I don’t think anything was lost. For me, I think the first time I heard it and it was quieter, that was a real adjustment for me, but you have to hear the story, and that was part of the learning process for me.”
Audience Question: The show is very accessible. I’m thinking of the accessibility of the show vs maintaining the edge of the album, which gives the album resonance. Does the accessibility of the show and the reception of the show surprise you in any way? Because I know that as a band, one of the things you thrive on is being on the edge and being actually perceived that way.
Billie Joe:I think that Michael Mayer is on the edge, that’s what I think we share in common. He didn’t want to do anything that was safe, and that’s why I think he got it and he was right, and that’s why he chose us. Yea, I don’t know, I guess, you might as well be dangerous, there’s no other place to be.
Michael Mayer:I think it’s to the extent that we made any accommodation to this venue, it was all in the service of the story, and never about making the story easier. In some cases from Berkeley to New York we made the story more brutal, we had Tunny loose a leg and in Berkeley he was injured in a kind of non-specific way, and that’s something you don’t see too often, in a realistic way, in a Broadway musical.
David Cote: That reminds me of a question from last night when someone asked about “Time of Your Life” being played at the end of the musical, he said it’s like a happy ending.
"That guy was a smartass..." - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Billie Joe: Well, the funny thing about that song is that it’s not called “Time of Your Life,” it’s called “Good Riddance” and that snarky little bastard (I’ll say it), he was kinda… he was kinda… a cunt. He knew good and damned well what the answer was to that question, he just wanted to be a smartass. It’s an encore. So, the curtain goes down, and everyone has acoustic guitars and that’s sorta like the rock show aspect of it.
Audience Question: Is there some song that you wished had been put into the show?
Billie Joe: I remember Tom Hulce saying that “East Jesus Nowhere” could have made it into the show. Michael Mayer:Hulce’s assistant is still insisting on trying to put it in somewhere in the show.
Audience Question: For Kevin Adams, lighting designer, I was looking around and you have a shitload of [lighting] instruments, and I’m wondering if doing the lighting design for this show was different from other shows and what were the difficulties of moving the show from Berkeley?
Kevin Adams: The hard thing, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for the past few years, these rock-pop theater shows have been popular, and I have been very lucky to ride that wave. So I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to do Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, Next to Normal, Hair, and this, I think I’ve … so it was just trying to find a way to find different vocabularies for each show. I knew this show was coming up, and I wouldn’t let a bag of tricks, of strobe tricks, that I had be used for Hair because I wanted to use them for this show.
Audience Question: What kind of struggles did you face with trying to develop the album into a stage production, particularly in terms of story and character development?
Michael Mayer:Well, the whole thing was a process, and I wouldn’t say it was a struggle, because it was a beautiful challenge. And I have to say that we all… we had a wonderful time making it. So even where we got stymied at times about how something should look or could function, it was always a groovy experiment, do you know what I mean? That said, I think one of the big challenges was how to parse the lyrics in a way that would make sense as dialogue, monologue, as hallucination, as a source of connection between people that got penetrated by another force coming through at times. How to create true simultaneity, which is one of the great gifts that the design team gave us in this world that can sustain a multiplicity of voices and lives and images and experiences that cascade around each other and impact each other. It was the surgical approach that was a little painstaking. This line has to actually have a question mark… even if you don’t get the rest between that note and the next. That was the trickiest part.
Lauren Banjo, who got Billie Joe to sing the song “Misery” at a soundcheck in Las Vegas last year, asked a question. She wore a tye-die shirt, which is a bit of a running joke between her and Tre Cool, who at the same soundcheck (I think), told her that he ‘hated tye-die and that she couldn’t come to the show unless she changed her shirt.’ So he gave her a Green Day shirt. [Lauren wrote in to say that it was Chris, who ran the Verizon soundcheck contest from last year, the shirt. ] Lauren asked Billie Joe: In 2005, you said in an interview that an American Idiot musical would only happen over your dead body. I have the recording of the interview on my phone if you want to hear it. Billie Joe responded: “Will it be as loud as that tye-die shirt you’re wearing?” Lauren went on to ask why he changed his mind.
Billie Joe Disses Lauren (But hey, the shirt deserved it!) — laurenbanjo
Lauren with Signed Misery Lyrics from Soundcheck in Las Vegas - Photo by GDM
Billie Joe: No, I don’t remember… things come out of my mouth… I can’t even remember… I believe you, you don’t have to play it for everyone… I don’t think it was… we immediately wanted to do it as soon as we were were asked. We were interested in what they had… what Michael had to say. We saw Spring Awakening. We really didn’t know what was going on with musical theater. We saw Spring Awakening, and I was blown away by it. Because it was y’know, something different, y’know, it was new. He’s a revolutionary dude, so…
Audience Question: Was it hard or easy to put the music into a story?
Billie Joe: Making that record was really hard, really difficult to make. If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.
Audience Question: How do you as actors prepare for the show?
Ben Thompson: During the rehearsal process, early on, starting at Vassar, our amazing choreographer, Stephen Hoggett, basically put us through boot camp and got us into shape, got our bodies ready for this amazing car wreck. Y’know, I think we each have our own ways of preparing for it. These guys [Gallagher, Esper, Sands, etc] , y’know, their emotional journey that they have to go through every night is a different kind of preparation that is a whole other story. We have a mandatory warmup, which is kind of odd for a Broadway musical. That company that Michael was talking [having been created by the cast in a first workshop stage] about at Vassar… the first five minutes of the warmup, it never fails, [we talk to each other about what happened during the day, even if we just saw each other the night before] and it’s like, ok guys, can we focus, ‘[but] we haven’t seen each other since yesterday!?…’ But the warmup really gets us to start that… unity… that we enjoy.
Audience Question: Since you’re acting opposite St. Jimmy for most of the play, I’m kinda confused. Do you consider him a real character or a feeling? I have also heard another interpretation, that St. Jimmy is like a drug?
John Gallagher, Jr.: That’s a great question. The trickiest part of the rehearsal process… was figuring out the relationship between Johnny and St. Jimmy… What made the most sense was that for the first half of the show is, Johnny is in such a fractured and freaked out place, alone in the big city that he’s come to, doesn’t have any friends, wants to meet girls, he’s feeling like a complete screwup. His buddies, he feels, have abandoned him, and he creates what he needs in that moment, which is… this… protector, and this person to guide him. Guides him down a very dangerous and ultimately, wrong path. I made the choice that Johnny really does think he’s a real person, up until that moment when he says, “It’s time to wake up” after Wake Me Up When September Ends, and he sees St. Jimmy’s face turn into his face on those television sets, it’s that moment where he’s probably sober for the first time in months and realizing… the kind of feeling I read about with a lot of addicts when they look in the mirror and say “That’s not me.” To believe the stakes of the show, Johnny really needs to believe that he’s a real person.
Audience Question: To the cast, how does it feel to be working with Green Day in general?
Alysha Umphress:Amazing. They have been nothing but… so completely generous and involved, I think that has been the best part of it. A lot of times when you have famous people involved in shows, it’s like they show up at opening night and they put their name above the title, and y’know, they take some pictures…. They have been so involved from the very beginning, and it’s been so inspiring, they are amazing. No one can top them.
Audience Question: Billie Joe, how did you reach out to society to write the lyrics to inspire so many?
Billie Joe:How did I reach out to society? I don’t know, um… I’m still struggling with that… rephrase the question… let’s get deep… Audience member: “You write about very important things that are going on in the world. Did you interact with anyone that influenced you to write about these important things?” Billie Joe: I think for me, it was my own confusion about what was going on. I never grew up during a time of war, that kind of chaos, that close to a dictatorship, with a president, ‘he who will not be named’ [Crowd whoops]…. There was a lot of reality television happening at the time. Everyone wanted to see these people who weren’t talented and they just had calf muscles and fake tits and put ’em in a room and eventually, they’ll fuck each other. And then, with this other side, you need this kind of toothpaste or your teeth would fall out. Or your dick’s not gonna get hard because you’re not taking this kind of pill. And then you mix all that in and you see these embedded journalists that were going into Iraq and everything was coming together and seeing this on television. And to see those planes smashing into the World Trade Center, seeing it live, right there. I don’t think we ever really as a society, we’ve never seen anything that that’s up close. These are handheld video cameras, this is the kind of stuff that you shoot your little fucking kids with, you see kids growing up, you see the first time you change a diaper, but here what you see is war, that other side of it, and I don’t think anyone expected it. I know I didn’t. It was just chaos. I was just so confused, I just felt paralyzed, I didn’t know what to say. So the song “American Idiot” was the first thing that came to mind.
Audience Question: Bullet in a Bible was recorded of the biggest punk rock concert in history with over 65,000 people. How does it feel to know that you are trying to recreate that feeling with people [onstage]?
John Gallagher, Jr.: I don’t know that we are necessarily… we can’t… that’s something we couldn’t in a million years do, there is something that happens at a Green Day concert that… can’t ever be recreated by anybody that’s not Green Day, especially at a place like Milton Keynes arena, seen by thousands and thousands of people… But bringing it to this kind of venue [a Broadway theater], especially from an actor’s viewpoint, it’s been so rewarding… but it’s rewarding to me as an actor in a way that some plays can’t… bring you to that place. There is something so cathartic about these songs and this music and performing it, and being given a platform to allow it to grow and dig into it and create these characters. The total sweetener is just the fact that it’s Green Day, some of the greatest music ever written and we get to sing it every night is a total gift.
Green Day as Gateway Drug to the History of Punk and Inspiration to Kids in Flannel Departments Everywhere - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Pinhead Gunpowder. Photo by Michelle Lawlor, The Rock and Roll Picture Show
Michelle Lawlor is another photographer who I’ve been lucky to know over the past year, and I do believe she has the potential to become the next Bob Gruen. She loves music, loves photography, and to me, has a tremendous clarity of eye that always captures the right moment. She captured it at Pinhead Gunpowder back in February, that’s for sure, and Billie Joe’s dress from that night will always be vividly remembered because of her.
Michelle came into town this past weekend to shoot some shots of Niki Lee, who wrote of her Green Day adventures during the American Idiot years and will soon be expanding her work into a book coming out in the near future. Not only that, but the day, Sunday, brought Billie Joe Armstrong to American Idiot on Broadway at the St. James Theatre and at the 92StY, as well as a gig by John Gallagher, Jr. that night at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side. Oh, and Rachel from California was in town, too, so, it was a good day to come in and drag about 50 pounds of photographic equipment around for a day and snap some stuff. I wanted to highlight some of her photographs from the day (she took shots of everything except for the 92StY, which had a strict policy of no photography), and I urge you all to go and check out the set of photos and her blog that she published yesterday. Her site, Lucky 17 Photography, can be found here, including her pictures of Pinhead Gunpowder, the Mystic Knights of the Cobra, Honah Lee, and tons of other bands and events (weddings, gallery openings, etc), and of course, the beautiful shots of this past Sunday. Check the site out and hire before she gets famous and you can’t afford it!
First of all, Happy 6th Anniversary today, American Idiot! The album was released on 9/20-9/21/04 in the UK and US, so take some time to revisit the album and say, happy anniversary to it!
Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Mayer, and some cast and crew of American Idiot on Broadway held a series of “talkbacks” last week at the St. James Theater, moderated by David Cote of Time Out New York, after the show happened from 9/14-9/19. I was lucky enough to attend three performances of the show (thank you Jenne and David! much love to you!) and all five talkbacks (two of which I…uh… just walked in on), and I have to say, it was a special and wonderful time to not only see Billie Joe talk about the show, but to hear great discussions regarding the creative processes of the show itself.
My blog was mentioned at the talkback! Woot! David Cote referred to my interview of Afghan war vet and hardcore Green Day fan, Dawn71, using it as a basis to relate how the show of American Idiot (see video below at 1:01-2:32) reflects real life in terms of war and the impact that it has on life. In the clip below when Green Day Mind is mentioned, Billie Joe kind of shrugs and laughs, saying that “He had never heard of the blog,” but it was pretty amazing for me to sit in the audience and have David refer to the blog in a very serious manner. My blog is kind of strange — a personal journey of sight, sound, performance and life — all from the viewpoint of this past year following Green Day. I’ve put a lot of work and love and rage and time into this crazy blogging project, and though it was a bit strange to have him chuckle at first, it was awesome to hear one of my more serious blog posts used to highlight one of the serious themes of American Idiot. Dawn71 was hella happy to know that her love for the band and a story of her life was mentioned as well. Watch the video below to see!
David Cote mentions “Green Day Mind” at American Idiot Talkback (1:01-2:32)- American Idiot on Broadway — 9/15/10 — sundaymorning6am
The talkbacks themselves, minus the impromptu audience questions, were pretty awesome. I heard some things about the creative process of the show, particularly from the designers, that I had never heard before, and it was pretty great to have the mix of actors come into the talks to discuss the show from their viewpoint. It was all about Billie Joe, though, who was at the center of the maelstrom, and as the week of talkbacks wore on, questions from the audience stopped being serious ones asked about the show, but devolved more into, “can you sing ‘happy birthday’ to my daughter, ‘can I have a hug,’ and ‘can I give you something, Billie Joe?'” It was cool, though. Most folks never get the chance to meet Billie Joe in person, and hey, if you have the opportunity, you have to go for it!
Though American Idiot itself is more of a personal journey and not necessarily a political one (I’ve always looked at it politically moreso than personally, but the album itself is as much personal as anything else), I have to say, that the album literally dragged me through the latter years of the Bush Administration. I truly don’t know what I would have done without it. Thank you, Green Day, for being one of the few bands of the day that dared to speak out against what Billie Joe referred to at one point as the “regime of the Bush administration.” Billie Joe refers to the time of the album being written and the political and social happenings of those dark days after 9/11, below:
Billie Joe, John Gallagher, Jr. Talks About the Depiction of War in American Idiot on Broadway and the Response of War at the Release of the album, American Idiot— bwaddel996
All in all, it was a great time spent with Billie Joe and the people involved in the musical. I was very happy that I had the opportunity to witness the talks. I also went to see John Gallagher, Jr. perform at Rockwood Music Hall on 9/19, and he’s such a nice guy that he talked with a bunch of us crazy fans after the show. He really is a sweet kid! My friend Michelle, of Lucky17 Photography, took a bunch of great pictures at both the final talkback and at John’s show, and when she posts them on her blog, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I have a few blurry photographs that I took, but a couple of them I just absolutely adore.
Billie Joe with PBR Cans for Autographs - Photo by Green Day Mind
I have never asked the band to sign anything — I sorta hate getting autographs — and the only two pictures I have of me with members of the band were taken by other people (Billie Joe and Mike Dirnt, which was actually taken by Dirnt himself without me asking, good times!), but I just felt that I had to get at least one thing signed, so I did… a new variation of “AWESOME AS FUCK” that Abbey (who Billie Joe tweeted at that he loved, lol, good for Abbey!) came up with, “IDIOT AS FUCK.” Thanks, Billie Joe! UPDATE: Abbey asked Billie Joe and Michael Mayer a pretty long and intense question at the talkback, and I loved the answers given by both men regarding the show. See the video below:
Idiot as Fuck Signed by BJA
Abbey Fox (aka abbie) Asks Billie Joe and Michael Mayer a Question — Whiting1ful
All in all, these talkbacks, combined with Billie Joe and Michael Mayer interviewed by Jordan Roth of the Jujamcyn Theaters at the 92StY on 9/19, were… how shall I say… awesome as fuck, and at times, Idiot as fuck as well. Thank you, American Idiot for the good times! Billie Joe left New York on Monday, to head back to the Bay. Have a great vacay before you head off to South America, and say hello to Mike and Tre for us! I missed them.
Static Noise Podcast with Art Work by Violeta Kalfova
Ok, the Green Day Authority really didn’t go to the Tonys, but site leader Andres Martinez and moderator J’net Newton, along with American Idiot Road Trip winner, Katie Pansy McGrogan, did go to the Opening Night After Party back on April 20th. As mentioned last week, the three talk about their adventures during opening night week on the Green Day Authority’s new Static Noise podcast. Prior to talking about their opening night adventures, Andres and Alex chat again on all things Green Day, including last Sunday’s Tony Awards.