First off, I’m sorry that my posts have gone a bit quiet lately. Truth to tell, I’ve lost a bit of my blog-mental-mojo lately with various things here and there that come along with the bullshit of life since American Idiot on Broadway closed last month, and the posts to the blog will more than likely be a little infrequent until someone or something brings my mojo back to me!
May Mojo Bringing
Until said mojo-returning time, I have some mojo-boosting to look forward to during May, including seeing the Dirty Pearls at the Webster Hall Studio (May 11th), Dear Landlord at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn (May 12th), and then Honah Lee in Brooklyn at the Charleston (May 13th), as Honah Lee celebrates the upcoming release of their new album. Hopefully I’ll survive three straight nights of rock and roll so that I can head to the theater the week after to see Derek Jacobi in the sold-out Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and The Tempest by Target Margin Theater at HERE. The Donmar Warehouse and Target Margin are two of my favorite theater companies, and though I’ve seen productions of both Shakespearean plays a billion times, I can watch a good Shakespeare production any time of the day or night. I was also lucky to see Michael Esper and an old schoolmate of mine, Matt Servitto (he played an FBI agent in HBO’s The Sopranos for years),in Tony Kushner’s new play, Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures at the Public Theater. Esper and Servitto are in pivotal supporting roles and they are great, as is the production in general. It’s a very heavy show, mixing family misery with a dose of labor history and a father’s announcement of his impending suicide, but through the heavy there are some excellent laughs, a sharp script, lovely set, and outstanding performances. And Esper is shirtless for a bit in the show, so… MOJO BONUS!
June Mojo Bringing
Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits Tour Schedule May-June 2011
Bobby Joe Ebola, Cheesequake, Dog That Bites Everyone - Lulu's, June 7th
Then June brings some fun California mojo back to the New York area in the form of Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits! Bobby Joe’s Corbett Redford III and Dan Abbott are hitting the road again, with their “Ring Around the Bullshit” tour from May 13th to July 6th (though the tour goes through July 29th), starting off in California with stops in the Metro New York area in New Brunswick, NJ (The Alamo on June 6th) and my very own borough of Brooklyn at Lulu’s on July 7th. The above graphic has the tour dates but check out their constantly updated Facebook event page for tour venues and last minutes updates and changes. Make sure you catch them for a down-to-earth good time when they come near you.
Redford and Abbott are two of the hardest-working musicians out there. Not only did they finish up a week with the Frustrators touring back in February with a bunch of great bands, but they’ve been working non-stop on shows as well as on 13 videos to each of the songs from their 2010 album release, F. The first of the videos came out a few weeks ago… and was immediately banned from Youtube! That should indicate to you the level of provocative imagery that the first of these videos (the first being the song “Poly,” below) will bring you for the other 12 releases. Stay tuned to their Facebook page as well as their homepage, BobbyJoeEbola.com for more videos. Vodpod videos no longer available.
Bobby Joe Ebola - ¡Carmelita Sings!: Visions of a Rock Apocalypse
Especially for this “Ring Around the Bullshit” tour, the duo are re-releasing their 2000 album entitled, ¡Carmelita Sings!: Visions of a Rock Apocalypse, a collection of 30+ songs including a few live tracks. The original version came with an special art book that’s being reissued as well, with art by Jon Carling, who did cover art for F, Robert Eggplant of Absolutely Zippo, and Jason Chandler of the Frustrators, among others.
I love this album! I snagged a copy of it during their NYC tour last year, and it’s in heavy rotation on my iPhone. Every song is worth a sing-along as Bobby Joe sings songs of turtles losing their home (“Mr. Turtle”), psychotic girlfriends (“Psychotic Girlfriend (The Smurf Nazis)”), dentists who provide meat for Iams and Purina (“Root Canal”), the joys of college and not calling your parents (“Money for Books”), loving drugs that call me “potato” (“I Love Drugs”), and, “You Don’t Have to Die Alone”… so when you die a violent death, take someone with you… . The album is completely irreverent, funny, over-the-top and musically satisfying. I’ve never seen the art book that comes with it but with all of the artists that appear in it plus the additions to the disc, I’ll have to buy a new copy of the set when they hit Brooklyn in June.
Here’s a press release about the re-issue:
¡Carmelita Sings!: Visions of a Rock Apocalypse
“The dark and cerebral classic 2000 album now reissued for the first time with its original 40 page ‘art book’! This brick of awesome also features some new art inspired by the album cataclysmic tone, B-sides, an unreleased MacNuggit radio performance from Canadian station CITR, recorded October 19th, 1999 AND never before reprinted buttons & stickers from the tense and bygone era this opus came out.
The art book contains illustrations, paintings, collage and more from many artists including Jon Carling, Moses Saarni, Fermin Mata, Robert Eggplant (Absolutely Zippo), Julia Booze, Dylan Blackthorn, Christopher Murdoch, Jason Chandler (The Frustrators), Baby Deer (Fleshies), Caoimhe Über Alles and even some doodles by the band members!
Come to think of it, all of this great stuff in the next few months is sure to bring me the mojo! I’m looking forward to it. I hope everyone has a great couple of months, and I hope to see you at a show!
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!
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
American Idiot on Broadway - Click on Image to Stream Album for the Week!
It’s been awhile since I last posted, but I’ve been a bit busy. After attending Green Day’s three shows in California (Irvine, Chula Vista and San Francisco) from August 31-September 5, I spent ten more glorious days in the Bay Area and was… how shall we say… a practicing Lushotologist. I was not necessarily drinking… but I was absorbing all good things that life (or vacation) in the East Bay has to offer. It was magnificent!
I returned to New York City this past Monday and immediately went to work… and to see American Idiot on Broadway and attend “American Idiot University.” This week the show is hosting a series of talkbacks moderated by lead theater critic of Time Out New York, David Cote, for Broadway Week. Billie Joe Armstrong and AI director Michael Mayer are being joined by various cast members (Tuesday night was Theo Stockman, Declan Bennant and Cristina Sajous; Wednesday night was John Gallagher, Jr., Michael Esper and Gerard Canonico), along with set designer Christine Jones, lighting designer Kevin Adams, arranger Tom Kitt, costume designer, Andrea Lauer, music director Carmel Dean, video and production designer, Darrel Maloney, and associate choreographer, Lorrin Lataro.
David Cote was the perfect moderator for the two talkbacks I’ve seen so far (I sneaked into the Tuesday talkback (ssshhh) while friends invited me to attend the show tonight and tomorrow) and led a lively discussion among Billie Joe, Michael Mayer, the creative team and the cast regarding the album, its translation to the stage and the creative impetus of the show. (Full disclosure: I’ve known David since the 1990s and he’s one of the few critics whose opinions I actually trust; we discussed the show earlier this week.) After tomorrow’s talkback — which consisted of about 20 minutes of discussion with the creative team and cast members and 15 minutes of questions from the audience — I hope to post more about the actual discussion itself, but as you know, I’m a bit behind reporting on the California shows as it is, so don’t hold your breath.
There will be three more opportunities to attend American Idiot University: Thursday, September 16th @ 8pm; Friday, September 17th @ 8pm and Sunday, September 19th @ 3pm. Students can buy tickets for $27 depending on availability, but anyone can attend the talkback afterward. I… uh… don’t necessarily recommend sneaking in for the talkbalk like some jerks that I know… me.
As a special bonus for Broadway Week, you can stream for free the entirety of the American Idiot cast album. Click on the cast album cover or here to do so while you can!
Here are a few tiny blurry shots that I took tonight with my iPhone; click on the tiny image to view larger, but still blurry, images.
Coming up this Sunday, the president of the Jujamcyn Theaters including the St. James Theater, Jordan Roth, will be leading talks with Billie Joe and Michael Mayer at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. (For more information on the event, click here.) Audience questions can be submitted to Roth via Twitter at http://twitter.com/jordan_roth.
I’ll be there on Sunday… with an actual ticket. See you there!
Party! Party! Party! Tour Last Stop: Trenton, 4/24/10
The Party's Over. Party! Tour Says Goodbye
Baby, Lady, Chinatown, Night Moves, Gryptron at Don Hill
The day after Friday’s Foxboro Hot Tubs, Honah Lee, and the Mystic Knights of the Cobra, gig at Don Hill’s in Manhattan, I scrambled to catch a train out to Trenton, to be picked up by Michelle. We headed to Honah Lee Tim’s backyard for a BBQ in the garage made into a bar (an awesome space for clandestine outdoor shows some day), and chilled out before heading to the MillHill Basement for the last stop on the Party! Tour. Honah Lee’s Jim, Dim, and Tony were there while most of the MKOTC had stayed in Manhattan except for Trell, who smartly went to Trenton after the Don Hill show to chill in “the country.” Everyone didn’t meet up again until we all arrived at the little basement venue in downtown Trenton, a room three times smaller than the Bowery Electric would turn out to be, with muchlower ceilings.
Now That's a Low Ceiling! Millhill Basement, 4/24/10
Honah Lee's Tim Introduces the Cobras at Millhill. Photo by Rachel K.
As there was the wet of sweat everywhere from Friday’s show at Don Hill’s, Saturday brought the wet of rain from the miserable drizzle happening outside. Both bands were exhausted (four straight nights of playing and partying is hard to do, particularly when you open up for one of the biggest “secret” bands on the planet by the third night) and the smallness of the room, with a tighter, packed house of about 75, was suffocating. Honah Lee and the MKOTC took full advantage of the lack of room and air and the excess of wet, and were all up in the audience’s faces. Though both bands possess the ability to confront their audience, Friday’s extreme FBHT performance rubbed off on both of them. They threw themselves at the audience and the audience, a bit shocked, began throwing themselves back at ’em. The rain kinda made the fact that the party was over, a bit sadder. At bar closing time, the Cobras headed to their hotel, and I went off with Honah Lee. After all, I am of the East Coast, and as always, I had to break myself away from the pull of the East Bay. Plus, the van was full.
The next morning, Michelle, Jim, and I went to the Cobra hotel for one more goodbye. Tim, last seen distraught on the sidewalk outside of Millhill, was way too hung over to attempt a goodbye, and Dim and Tony… who the heck knew where they were? With Bryan behind the wheel (he was the engine for the MKOTC, driving the van and wrangling the instruments) and some of the MKOTC having left earlier, I hitched a ride back to the City with the Cobras, and gave my return train ticket to photographer and music buddy, Michelle, who I hoped would go home, change, catch the next train to Manhattan, and come to the FBHT show with us for one last fling with friends. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and it was the final parting of the Party! Party! Party! East Coast Tour.
Pre-Sunday Show – 4/25/10
I dropped my stuff off and went to the venue. I was 60th in line. There are two reasons why I wanted to go to this show. Of course, FBHT was one of them. The other? I wanted to be with friends. Folks who had made each other’s acquaintance, in many shapes and forms and of all political persuasions, over a band. Sometimes it feels like a wonderfully dysfunctional family. And it’s always a hella good time.
Tre and his Bike. Photo by unknown photographer
The line was made up of the usual suspects and many new folks that I had never seen or met. Beth from Missouri (so happy she came back!) and J’net from Oklahoma (who had had a great week all around); Dawn showed up with baked goods (and yummy they were) though she couldn’t stay for the show; crazy sexy Zoe from Oregon with her British dude; Jaime (who provided me with food as I was broke and hadn’t really eaten yet and was feeling faint; the shot of J.D. that I had in line didn’t help either); Cheryl and her husband, and the vivacious ToniAnn, the latter three from the Island of Staten. Andres from the Green Day Authority had stuck around and was holding Dawn’s baked goods to give to the crew. (I would see them eating the delicious brownies later after the show.)
Foxboro Hot Tubs Bowery Electric ticket with morning after sake.
I stood in line from about 3:30 and they gave out tickets at 6:00 or so. It was rainy and cold and miserable outside. By the time 6:00 came around, I was exhausted and barely had energy to stand. Once the tickets were distributed, I went back to the Cobra hotel to hang out, dry off and sit down for a few hours before the show, maybe take a nap. I was close to collapse. By the time we walked back to the venue, I was running on fumes and needed to find a second wind somewhere. Or maybe a fourth by this time. I walked up with the Cobras, but they were on a list, and I was determined not to, at the least, look like, a hanger-on. I had my ticket in my hand and parted from them, walking up to Bill Schneider who was handling the guest list and I sorta proudly flashed my ticket up to him. “See, I have my ticket, baby,” I thought only to myself. Of course he had no idea that my brain had melted from over the last week between the American Idiot opening on B’way and the Party! Tour or at least he probably thought that I was just crazy from the look on my face. I’ve never spoken to him, and he didn’t seem in too good a mood at the start of the show. Probably a lot of stress managing two Foxboro Hot Tubs shows in three days. I can only imagine the logistical nightmare of it all.
Sunday Show – Foxboro Hot Tubs and Emily’s Army – Bowery Electric – 4/25/10
Tiny Space, Big Band. Photo by Bob Gruen
Sunday’s show at the Bowery Electric had a different feel to it from Friday’s more laid-back Don Hill experience. Whereas Friday seemed more lighthearted and giddy, Sunday’s gig seemed darker, grittier, drunker, and slightly more raw. (Then again, I realize that I don’t remember that much about it, except in chunks of drunk.)
(Read a review of Sunday’s Bowery Electric show at Rolling Stone here, though note that RS reported that FBHT did only one GD cover, “St. Jimmy,” when they actually did two, including “Blood, Sex and Booze” as well as “Supermodel Robots” by that crazy German electro-pop-insane band, The Network.)
The Bowery Electric is a split two-level basement site with a high bar rail separating and overlooking the deeper pit area of a floor and stage about the size of my old studio apartment in Brooklyn. Ok, maybe a teeny bit bigger. Sunday’s Foxboro Hot Tubs show was a semi-private party for the cast of American Idiot and friends of the band. One hundred fans were lucky to get tickets to this show, and probably 80 or so friends and family of the band were in attendance. (Larry Livermore, in his blog post on this show, said that there were “100 or so fanatical fans” in attendance. I’d like to say for the record, that we are “focused” not fanatical, thank you very much.) I have no idea how many people the place actually holds, and I avoided looking at the occupancy sign on the wall.
Clicky!: Emily's Army Widget
Sunday night introduced the band, Emily’s Army, to New York. Emily’s Army consists of Cole, Travis, Max, and Joey. (The band has a pretty cool Widget here.). One of the four members is Billie Joe Armstrong’s eldest son. If you don’t know which one he is, it’s time for you to find out. You’ll hear his name, as well as the names of his bandmates, in musical circles for years to come. You can view some YouTube videos of Emily’s Army at Gilman from last year. I’m not that familiar with the band, so you might want to go and read Larry Livermore’s blog posting about this show, which talks a bit more about their set. I liked them and their sound (and it was great to see the Armstrongs being proud parents, too), but they seemed so young to me that I felt a bit like a creepy old woman staring at teenagers and I had to walk away… but from what I saw, Joey is an already excellent drummer and Travis (lead singer and guitar), Cole (guitar), and Max (bass) are solid and have grown stronger since last year’s Gilman videos. With a few more years and experience, this band and its members may lead the next generation’s version of punk. Let’s hope so.
After Emily’s Army set, the 15-year olds were sent home to pats on the back and a “what’s up” here and there. It was now time for the “grownups” to tear the place up.
That second wind I mentioned earlier appeared after I was fueled by a shot of Jägermeister, a drink I hadn’t touched since the mid-1990s when I got so drunk on it, I threw up in neon green. There’s a reason why the Germans call it “liver glue.” As it swept down my throat I fully remembered why I hadn’t consumed it in years, it tastes like NyQuil, but it does the trick in an instant. One shot and you’ve come unglued. Two shots… well, I didn’t let it go that far. I let out a big whoop and felt as if I could move mountains on the dance floor. I would have to. The bar was packed to the gills, but not as tight as the dance floor that I would hit when the FBHT started to play.
John and Rachel.
Some cast members from American Idiot walked in about this time, including Michael Esper, Christina Sajous, Chase Peacock, Theo Stockman, and John Gallagher, Jr. Once again, the sweet and kind Mr. Gallagher shocked me when we ran into each other and he greeted me by name and we shared a teeny moment. Later in the night, we would share dance space during “A Quick One.”
Joan Jett, the Cobra Girls and Management.
During the break and after the Jägermeister, I could do just about anything, and that’s when Joan Jett walked up to near where I was standing with the Cobra Girls, Baby and Lady, along with the tour’s tougher-than-steel management, Rachel K. and Call Me Donna. I turned around, and Jett, who looked like she wanted to talk to the Cobra Girls, was a foot from me. I leaned toward her and said, “Joan Jett, the Cobra Girls would love to take a picture with you!” (I went cameraless this night, so Rachel K. gave me her camera and I clicked a few shots.) Jett said that she had heard about them and wanted to meet them. Needless to say, it was a nice moment. Here we were, in close proximity to a hot and legendary lady of rock ‘n roll. She is opening for Green Day during some of their European shows, including London’s Wembley Stadium. I have a ticket for the show, but I can’t afford a flight to England. Sigh. I saw Joan Jett open for the Police back in 1983, and she was booed by the stupid-assed Detroit crowd. I’ll never forget her walking off of the Cobo Arena stage (now Joe Louis Arena), but not before she said, “Fuck you, Detroit.” She became a heroine to me. I’d wanted to say that same thing to my hometown for years. I would love to see her again in a stadium full of people. Sometimes, though, luck runs out with the Lushie Gods. No Wembley to write about for me. 😦
The Dark Side of Night with the Foxboro Hot Tubs
That setlist looks familiar! - Bowery Electric, 4/25/10
What can I say about this show that I can actually remember? Hmm. Not much. Once the Hot Tubs went on, the night became a complete blur of bodies and heat. I remember plowing to the dance floor with Bryan and Brasesco at the first strains of “Stop, Drop and Roll,” and jumping in sync with everyone around me. I was about two body rows away from the too-low stage at the Bowery Electric, which came to just under the kneecaps. Once you got toward that stage and the bodies behind you pushed forward, you could kiss your knees goodbye forever. Or at least until the bruises healed.
The Church of Lushotology was in session.
Two of Eight? Renditions of “Stop, Drop and Roll”
More Dark Side of Night… or what I can remember of it…
Adrienne Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Photo by Rachel K.
Theo in a boa. Photo by Rachel K.
Luckily, there are a few YouTube videos that have helped jogged my addled memory. Watching the limited video from this show on Youtube is a bit like clutching at dabs of manna from hell. When I look at them and see the brick walls of the club, packed with people and the tiny stage, I’m reminded that this party will be one of those that goes down in rock ‘n roll history. Small and intimate, packed with fan, friend, star, nobody, one on top of each and all going hog-wild in dancing and celebration. Sure, some folks like Adrienne and Michael Mayer, along with Joan Jett (I don’t think she came down into the pit, as I lost sight of her once I headed into it), stayed up by the rail, but I can’t really picture Michael Mayer crowdsurfing. I stayed with Bryan and Brasesco for a long while, and when the first “It’s Fuck Time” broke out, the pit went even wilder than I could imagine [Video]. Inhibitions were gone and it felt damned good. American Idiot cast members were flying left and right and hogging Billie Joe’s stage and he was loving it, until he finally told them that he loved them, but that they had to “get the fuck off of my stage.” No one stays on his stage for very long.
While Michael and Theo and John from American Idiot had some fine crowdsurfing moments, it was Steelthorne from the Green Day Community who wowed me with his surfing skills from the video below. I’ve never met Steelthorne, but we were both at last July’s (2009) Albany show (where I met Bryan and other Green Day Fans for the first time). Albany was my first real Green Day show. There’s a great Chris Dugan picture from either the Albany or Madison Square Garden shows of Steelthorne with a feather boa. Steelthorne gives Billie Joe some of the best boas. See him surf like a pro to “The Pedestrian.” Note also the expert beer exchange and how much The Rev seems to be enjoying it.
Steelthorne Surfs Like a Pro – “The Pedestrian” – Foxboro Hot Tubs, Bowery Electric, 4/25/10
Theo Surfs. Photo by Rachel K.
OMG! Photo by Bob Gruen
There is a picture that Bob Gruen took that I would love to buy and hang on my wall. I actually emailed his representative about licensing the photograph (goodness only knows how much that would be), but I haven’t heard back from them. Gruen has a thumbnail posted at his site, of Kevin Preston onstage undoing Billie Joe’s belt buckle with his teeth. The look on each individual face that can be seen captures the dynamic of the room as only a seasoned rock ‘n roll photographer such as Gruen can do. You can see me in the horde with a completely shocked OMG! face. I seriously don’t remember Kevin undoing The Rev’s pants. The only thing I remember is that I was so hot at this point that I had to walk off of the dance floor or spontaneously combust. You can make of that what you will.
Hot Pants. Photo by Rachel K.
It was Reverend Twitch’s red pants that caused the room temperature to go up many notches, surely.
When I walked off and back up toward the bar, I confronted a wall of people on the stairs, mesmerized by the stage.
I somehow made my way through them, and folks were buzzing about Bill Murray having been there, but that he had left. I have no idea. I downed a few glasses of water and hit the pit again.
Chino and The Rev. Photo by Chris Dugan
The Cobra Men, Chino, Night Moves, and Gryptron, along with Bryan and Brasesco, had moved down into the pit front and were forming a tall and thick blockade on Jason Freese’s side of the stage. I couldn’t get near them, and found myself toward the middle of the pit, while Brasesco tried to get me closer to the front, but it wasn’t working. I motioned him to turn toward the stage. I was content on where I was. My knees had already been crushed against the stage front and I didn’t wish to replicate that particular pain. I turned toward my right and stared right into John’s face, who was screaming, “A Quick One!” “A Quick One!” Knowing that that song comes at the end of the show, I said to him, “They’ll play it, they’ll play it,” but I couldn’t get it out that if he requested it too soon and they played it, the show could abruptly end. It’s like yelling out “Minority” too early or “Good Riddance.” These songs signal the near end or end of a Green Day show, just as “A Quick One” symbolizes the end of an FBHT show. Sssshh! They’ll get to it. There were still a dozen more “Stop[s], Drop[s] and Roll[s]” and “It’s Fuck Time[s]” to go!
Probably the oddest of many odd moments from the night happened when a fan surfed onstage and called his wife. Apparently they had had a fight and the guy wanted Billie Joe to persuade her to come back to him. Unfortunately, they got her voicemail. Billie Joe said that it wouldn’t work out because he couldn’t talk to her, but that he had a beer for him (which appeared like a miracle out of nowhere), and a song called “Stop, Drop and Roll… and get the fuck off of my stage.” Poor guy. Well, at least they both tried.
Call My Estranged Wife… Please – FinksEntourage
Peanut Gallery. Photo by Rachel K.
Bob Gruen posted a surprising photograph of Billie Joe, who apparently re-chipped his front tooth sometime during the show (click to see at his site). Everyone who saw the photograph and had attended the show from the Green Day Community were shocked. When the hell did THAT happen? I remember the show being pretty wild, but I don’t remember blood dripping down Billie Joe’s face that one person mentioned on this topic. Sometime during the night, Christina Sajous from American Idiot was onstage and got kicked in the face by a roaming crowdsurfer. This I remember clearly as it seemed like it was a hard kick and looked like it hurt. The Rev pulled her back from the stage front and she watched the rest of the show from above the stage. Both of these incidents add a bit of special meaning to the screamed “I’m Alive” portion of the FBHT song, “Highway One.”
“I’M ALIVE!!!!” – Highway One – Foxboro Hot Tubs, Bowery Electric, 4/25/10 (Smshnpmpkn)
After “The Pedestrian,” the Hot Tubs did “Broadway” interspersed with a cover of the Mystic Knights of the Cobra’s “El Camino.” Gallagher and Stockman were onstage for most of the song, clearly smashed (like the great majority of everyone else in the room) and having a great time. Baby Cobra eventually made it onto the stage and helped with the “El Camino” chorus.
John, Theo, Baby Cobra, et al – “Broadway” / “El Camino” – Foxboro Hot Tubs / Mystic Knights of the Cobra – Bowery Electric, 4/25/10 (Smshnpmpkn)
The night began to wind down and it was time for the most mellow song of the night, Stop, Drop and Roll‘s “Dark Side of Night.” The Rev dedicated the song to Michael Mayer and gave a bit of a shout-out to New York City.
“New York City, Motherfucker!” – Dark Side of the Night – Foxboro Hot Tubs, Bowery Electric 4/25/10 (Smshnpmpkn)
Yeah I'm Rocking.
Sometime after the jazzy part of the night happened, came the final songs of the show, “St. Jimmy” and the moment that John Gallagher, Jr. had been waiting for… “A Quick One.” By this time it seemed everyone was holding each other up on the dance floor and the women in the front were begging people not to surf over them anymore. But still, there was an energy left in the room that sustained itself through the long and rambling “A Quick One.” John was so happy and it was fun to see him and everyone having the time of their lives. There is one YouTube video of “A Quick One,” but the sound goes in and out and it’s not that good, but that’s ok. Some things are better left to memory (or lack thereof). Just knowing that we were all there for a trip to the Dark Side is sometimes good enough.
At the end, The Rev said goodnight, dropped his mic on the ground and walked off. He and everyone else, were done.
And then it was over…
Josh and Rachael. Photo by Rachel K.
This party culminated a week of excitement that you can read about if you travel back through this blog. When I say that the week of April 19th-April 25th, 2010, spent over the opening of American Idiot on Broadway and the subsequent Party! Party! Party Tour and Foxboro Hot Tubs shows, was some of the best times of my life, it’s not hyperbole. It’s hard, cold fact. I’ve had great moments on the planet, but few can compare to this week of good performance, good music, good friends, good times.
BJA with "It's Fuck Time" Bracelet by ToniAnn. Photo by ToniAnn Graffigna
ToniAnn, an awesome Green Day fan from New York City, was at both Foxboro Hot Tubs shows this past April 23 and 25, 2010, at Don Hill’s and the Bowery Electric. As you may have heard, the Foxies introduced a new song at these shows called “It’s Fuck Time.” (See video and read about the Don Hill show here.) ToniAnn was so… uh… inspired by the Tubbies song, that she created bracelets with the phrase, “Oh Baby Baby, It’s Fuck Time!” on them. Unfortunately, the company that she got them from wouldn’t let her put “FUCK” on the bracelets, so F♥♥K it is!
ToniAnn saw Billie Joe on the street outside of American Idiot on Broadway last week as she was waiting to give some of the bracelets to cast members of the show. According to her story below, Billie Joe loved it! So I guess that means it’s “street approved by BJA.”* (Read ToniAnn’s story below.)
If you’d like to order one for cost (ToniAnn is not making money from this), email her at FBHTbracelets@gmail.com. DO NOT SEND HER CASH until after you have spoken with her by email. She is going to order a second batch soon, so if you want one, particularly in time for the upcoming North American tour and taking into account wait periods for production and shipping, now is the time to order one.
Here’s her story in her own words:
American Idiot/Billie Joe experience May 18, 2010
Wednesday at 8:41pm
So, a few days ago, me and Steph decided we were going to go see American Idiot on Tuesday, along with my friend Billy. It was raining the entire day. In the morning I was thinking of not even going into Manhattan at all. Steph hasn’t seen the play yet and I said to myself ‘eh, fuck it I’ll go’. [The last time I debated going to the city in the rain, I met all of GD on 3/12/2010]. I went to school, came home, called Steph, got ready and etc.
When I got home, I had a package waiting for me…….the glorious ‘O BABY BABY ITS FUCK TIME’ bracelets!! Well…since the company fucked up my bracelets they say ‘O BABY BABY ITS F♥♥K TIME’ which is still very cute by the way. I took a few with me to the show, because I was going to give one to a few of the cast members.
So I get into the city, walked in the rain to ESPN zone, used their bathroom [haha], met up with Steph, and we walked to the St. James Theater. Lottery was at 5pm, cause the show last night was at 7pm. Billy never made it to lotto, but that’s okay since me and Steph didn’t win anyway. They had a limited amount of box seats so we went with those. We took right box, and then left to go to McDs to eat and bullshit about whatever haha….so finally, we walked back to the theater, and took our seats. I was also very annoyed because once we got to the theater, my phone died.
So like 10seconds before the curtain rises…..I look down to the orchestra and I saw like ‘STEPH THAT’S BILL SCHNEIDER’S FUCKING SIDE BURN!! OMG HOLY SHIT THERE’S BILLIE AND ADIE!’ [then the curtain went up.] So the show starts and all I’m thinking is ‘omgomgomgomgomg I must see him sometime before he leaves!’ So….the show was amazing as always. Me and Steph went to the lobby before “Good Riddance” was on, to look at some merch and etc….all of a sudden, Billie walks out the door, escorted by Eddie [or Frank for those who will LOL at this lmao], and goes through the cast entrance. Eddie comes back, pats Steph on the back and goes ‘He’ll be at the bar a little bit later hang tight!’ and walked away. We were like OMG DID HE JUST TELL US WHERE BILLIE WAS GOING TO BE?!?
Everyone from the theater started leaving, and then a security guard approached us, we told him the deal, and he told us to go to the glass doors outside. Once we got outside, we found out that the cast of GLEE was there [who I didn’t see AT ALL].
Now Billy said goodbye to us, and like 5mins later, not even…….Bill Schneider, Adie, Eddie, and Billie come towards the door. Me and Steph were like UHHHHH….so now Billie comes out and his face like fucking lit up and he’s like HEYY….so I of course asked for a picture, and I wish this was taped because he threw his arm up and in his cute little voice he goes ‘YEA YEAH OF COURSE!’ so Steph took the pic of me and Billie, and then I was like ‘can u take one with her too?’ and he’s like ‘YEAA SURE!’
Now at this point, Steph is trying to spit out that she played “Jesus of Suburbia” last year at MSG on July 27…and she couldn’t get it all out so she was like ‘do you remember me….’ and I was like ‘yeahh she played “Jesus of Suburbia” and he was like ‘yeah yeah I remember you! My friend watches that video all the damn time!’ [GDM: View and read about Stephanie’s awesome performance of JOS at Madison Square Garden here.] So then I took their pic, and Steph started to show Billie her tattoos and then I was like ‘OHH I have something for you’ and he’s like ‘ohhh really?!’ So I stuck my hand in the bag and pulled out the Fuck Time bracelet. He looked at it, and idk who the hell he was taking to and he’s like ‘OMG OMG NO FUCKING WAY THIS IS SO GREAT DO U SEE THIS OMG!!!’ so me n him at the same time were like ‘picture with it’ haha so he took one with the bracelet and then we all got hugs. We couldn’t even deal with the fact that he even remembered the both of us cause he said something like ‘oh yeah and u have a tattoo too’ and like I think I butted over him about the bracelet LOL.
BJA Street Approved. Graphic by ToniAnn Graffigna
Here are two more pictures from ToniAnn and Stephanie with Billie Joe, who’s looking a little like he just got off his shift at Best Buy with the shirt and jacket combination:
BJA with Toniann. Photo by Stephanie Vera-Tudela.
BJA with Stephanie Vera-Tudela. Photo by ToniAnn Graffigna
Michael Esper. Photo by ToniAnn Graffigna
John Gallagher, Jr. Photo by ToniAnn Graffigna
ToniAnn tracked down John Gallagher, Jr. and Michael Esper and gave them bracelets as well. As you may know, John and Michael are in the cast of American Idiot and were also at the FBHT Bowery Electric show.
*Disclaimer: the bracelets are not officially endorsed by members of the band or cast… just beloved and… street approved
Green Day's American Idiot at the Berkeley Repertory Theater
I’ve been struggling with this post. My home computer also went bust. It’s not been the easiest to critique Green Day’s American Idiot, and it’s gotten to be quite long, so I’m going to break it up into several posts. The first one focuses on The Book. The second post will focus on The Arrangement and The Cast; the third and last on The Choreography and The Direction with some concluding remarks.
The Arrangement: Tom Kitt’s score does justice to and expands on Green Day’s music through the music and vocal arrangements. Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt have great voices and are able to lay down some smooth emotive harmonies between them, but hearing American Idiot in song layers with choral intensity by a strong vocal cast is a treat. Comprised of the entirety of American Idiot, plus two b-side cuts from that album (“Favorite Son” and “Too Much Too Soon”), it’s combined with four songs from the band’s current record, 21st Century Breakdown (“21 Guns,” “Last Night on Earth,” “Before the Lobotomy,” and “Know Your Enemy”) and joined by a beautiful song never before recorded (though heard somewhat in the unreleased AI documentary Heart Like a Hand Grenade), written by Armstrong for his wife, Adrienne, when he was 19 (“When It’s Time”). It’s 90 minutes filled with a strong five-piece rock band joined by three strings of violin, viola, and cello.
American Idiot Song List
Kitt masterfully takes the orchestration for a choral ride while keeping the structure of the original music intact. It’s loud and bombastic when needed, tempting the Green Day fan to bop their head but probably leaving traditional theater goers wondering if they are allowed to tap their feet. Having sat through another rock and roll musical a lot lately, Lizzie Borden (full disclosure: I was in the original production of this show which depicts America’s favorite 19th-century murderess, Lizzie Borden, and love the music, literally, to death), I find myself during that show one of the few people in the audience willing to move my head at all during the production. I feel like a freak sometimes because of it, but you know, you have to do what you have to do. I will admit that on the first night of seeing American Idiot, I fell into the “audience member who refuses to move” theater etiquette category. I was in a hyper-critical mode because frankly, while I have no stake in the production of American Idiot, I want it to be as successful and as good as it can possibly be and not an embarrassment. I love this album too damned much. Since I’m not the greatest fan of traditional musical theater (and frankly, American Idiot borders more on the side of traditional musical theater than not), my hyper-critical critic’s cap was firmly screwed onto my head the first night. On the second night, I decided to ride the wave and was swamped by the musical tsunami. The music is the star of the show.
As I mentioned previously, the book is a bit rushed through due to the timing and intensity of the musical and visual onslaught, leaving the cast with little time to really portray the emotional quality of the louder and faster songs. One of my few critiques of the music is that the cast hasn’t completely allowed themselves to wrench the emotional velocity of the music out of Green Day’s hands and own it. Sure, the cast has a surface of emotion, but anyone can sing Green Day songs loud. My question to the cast is: can you feel them loud? Once they firmly and unequivocally do that, I can only believe that they will find the emotional heart-shaped hand grenades of the material.
Some of my favorite arrangements were “Holiday,” “Favorite Son,” “St. Jimmy,” “Give Me Novacaine,” “Before the Lobotomy”/”Extraordinary Girl,” “We’re Coming Home,” “Whatsername,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Letterbomb” and “21 Guns” (though the choreography for “Letterbomb” and “21 Guns” had some unfortunate moments visually for me), primarily due to the arrangements and emotional depth that the actors were able to find in the performance of them. (I’ll talk about this more under The Cast section.) “Give Me Novacaine,” started off by Michael Esper, has just the right touch of pathos and reflection to get the song’s emotional arch off to a good start. By the time Tunny finds himself in the war zone and under attack from a blaze of hard-hitting drums, guitars and the electronic boom of cannon and strobe lights, “Give Me Novacaine” becomes the most successful combination of music, staging, and acting with “Before the Lobotomy”/”Extraordinary Girl” coming a close second.
Kitt nicely overlays and intertwines some songs, such as “Know Your Enemy” with the refrain “nothing wrong with me, this is how I’m supposed to be…” from “Jesus of Suburbia,” and it works particularly well with “Before the Lobotomy” and “Extraordinary Girl,” from two different albums. While I’m not a huge fan of the staged flying that takes place during this song combination (it always reminds me too much of Peter Pan), the fly work was moving, particularly for me on the second night. I could almost feel the morphine dripping through Tunny’s veins as he and the Extraordinary Girl made their way through the upper echelons of the open theatrical space.
“Death of St. Jimmy,” “East 12th Street,” Nobody Likes You,” “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” and “We’re Coming Home” (songs that comprise “Homecoming” from the album) are arranged as one continuous song bringing the story to its whirlwind denouement, though “Nobody Likes You” is also appropriated for a portion “21 Guns.”
The vocals particularly soar when the parts are given over to the women: Mary Faber in “Dearly Beloved” and “Nobody Likes You” (parts of the “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming” movements), Rebecca Naomi Jones (“Letterbomb”), Christina Sajous (“Extraordinary Girl”) and Alysha Umphress, who plays Heather’s friend during “Too Much Too Soon.” Armstrong’s high voice translates well for women (Faber was just fantastic) and I loved the hearty primal scream that Jones let out during “Letterbomb.”
All in all, I thought that the music was fantastic. It’s not a Green Day concert and fans looking for that experience are seeing the wrong show. On the whole, the music was vibrant, exciting, and the band sounded great. While Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre might lurk onstage psychically for the Green Day fan, after a while the band and the cast come pretty close to making you forget that Green Day are not onstage. And that is rare feat, indeed.
“You have to search the absolute demons of your soul to make a great record.” — Billie Joe Armstrong on making 21st Century Breakdown
The Cast:Rolling Stone previously ran a nice piece on each of the cast members of American Idiot, which you can view here. You can also view a .pdf of the American Idiot program here.
The cast, among them young veterans of Broadway and off-Broadway such as John Gallagher, Jr. (Spring Awakening), Tony Vincent (Rent), Mary Faber (Avenue Q), and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange), is strong and talented. All have amazing voices and they obviously love the music, are incredibly enthusiastic, and are having, as the song goes, the time of their lives (shoot me for even going there). It’s a treat to hear them sing. The entire vocal cast is phenomenal. There’s not a bad voice in the house, and some rise to the challenge of bringing both the emotional quality of their parts together with the songs, particularly Tony Vincent (he’s scary dynamite as St. Jimmy), Michael Esper and Mary Faber, Joshua Henry as the Favorite Son (a cameo anyone would drool over to have), and Matt Caplan.
John Gallagher, Jr’s voice is strong; he sings and performs the songs well, but unfortunately, I could not believe him in the role of Johnny nor the essence of the relationships that he as Johnny, has with Will, Tunny, Whatsername or even St. Jimmy. He never seemed to completely personify the angst and rage — the absolute demons of his soul as Billie would say– that the character obviously possesses. He seemed overwhelmed and flat in the role to me, and not the vibrant, enigmatic character that is sketched out in American Idiot. As the whirlwind center of the impetus to get Will and Tunny to leave Jingletown, the one that gets Whatsername to shoot up despite her reluctance and the one who conjures up his deepest, darkest evil as St. Jimmy, he’s the tornado that sweeps everyone into the vortex with him. And when he realizes how destructive his demons are, how close on the edge of destruction he is, he’s got to claw himself up from the abyss in a real, heartfelt way that should have torn my hand grenade heart out and made me want to throw it far away from everyone to keep them safe. The music did this for me on the second night and not his portrayal of Johnny. (I keep coming back to the “Heart Like a Hand Grenade” metaphor; I’ll talk about this more in the conclusion… if I ever get there…)
In the slight monologues that he’s given he often sounds canned, as if he’s screaming the letters home instead of expressing his inner life. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s how he’s been directed by Mayer, I suppose, but he unfortunately brings little variety or emotional depth to the inner monologue that he’s presenting or range to the character. Some may view this as my not being able to remove Billie Joe from the American Idiot equation or thinking too much of the intensity of the AI music videos created by director Sam Bayer, and this may be true to some extent. Ultimately, while I enjoyed his performance, per se, I was not convinced that his rage and love led him to his dark persona of St. Jimmy, which left a one-dimensional Johnny for St. Jimmy to play off of. Sadly, for me, he’s not the right actor to portray the part, but he is a good actor and I hope that he soon embraces the demons and develops a deeper portrayal of Johnny.
I was so torn about the above that I asked Dawn (another diehard Green Day fan and theater buff), who went out to Berkeley to see the show what she thought of Gallagher. Her response was similar to mine, but she explained it a lot better in the following :
I agree with everything you write. My problem with him as a character is “I don’t care if you don’t care” — which is ok as sentiment in the show but not ok if that’s the way the audience feels about the lead character. And I do think it’s largely the delivery of the few spoken “letters” — if he’s so disillusioned by his parents and everything in Jingletown then why the hell is he writing them? You don’t get that from the letters — even the one he sends to Will. It’s all random rage. And we get that. We lived through the Bush administration, too. And there’s nothing I would have liked to do than to tune in, turn on and drop out. Certainly the time to do that is in your late teens / early twenties. But Johnny needs to believe that he’s dropping out to something better and you just don’t ever believe that he remotely thinks that he’s doing that — whether he’s going to what is clearly NYC or returning home. The rising and destruction of expectations is what makes that character human, and I don’t think Gallagher delivers that nuance. So he remains very two dimensional, which is not ok if that character is the most fully developed character. All the other characters are foils. And if their character’s development directly reflects the main character development, then they become one dimensional (as is clearly evident for Will, Tunny, Heather, and Whatsername). Only St. Jimmy really escapes that trap because he IS Johnny’s Id or addition. To me, that was the most fully developed character and the dude’s not even real. Which brings Gallagher’s shortcomings even more to the fore.
I’ll have to expand more on what Dawn writes above in The Direction section because I think it weighs directly on what needs improvement in the show. But for now, the rest of the cast:
Tony Vincent, as Johnny’s doppelgänger, St. Jimmy, grabs the character by the throat and never lets go. This glammed-out hardcore has issues and he doesn’t give a shit about how much danger or turmoil he creates in the lives of those around him. It was a treat to hear Vincent sing “St. Jimmy” and “Know Your Enemy” as his voice is the strongest of the cast males and is as clear as a bell. As a huge fan of the song, “St. Jimmy,” Vincent had a big challenge in my eyes, as of all the songs, it’s difficult for me to view “St. Jimmy” outside of Armstrong’s live performances of the song as he chews up the stage and spits out the audience. If there was ever a fan moment of Billie Joe’s shadow onstage for me, it was during this song. Vincent made me (almost) forget Billie Joe and I commend his performance of it as well as relished the moments he had onstage.
Michael Esper as Will probably has the easiest storyline to portray of the three friends, as the reluctant, bitter and unready father and distant boyfriend. He also has the most emotive of songs, the first part of “Give Me Novacaine” and “Nobody Likes You” and both of his turns singing these songs got to me. I almost felt sorry for him during “Nobody Likes You,” even if the character is such a terrible and irredeemable, lout. Esper portrays a quiet and persuasive melancholy as Will and he and Mary Faber as Heather, who I thought had the most resonant female voice in the cast, were quite believable as the harried and young couple.
Matt Caplan gives a solid performance as well, especially since he doesn’t have that much time to establish why his character one minute is melancholy in the city and the next minute is joining the army. He and Christina Sajous have a nice chemistry during “Extraordinary Girl,” and Sajous, who graduated from my Alma mater, Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (as did Theo Stockman from the chorus) uses her body and voice extremely well during this sequence and during the raucus bus ride to the Big City during “Holiday.”
Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatsername was powerful and worked well as Johnny’s love interest. I was a little confused script-wise how she changed from the sweet girl who Johnny spots in the window to the helion in “She’s a Rebel,” with a purple streak in her hair, but maybe I was just missing something. Her portrayal of the character was good though I wish she had more to play off opposite Gallagher. There was one moment in particular that I connected to in her portrayal of Whatsername and that’s when Johnny convinces her to shoot up for the first time, the look of terror and trust in her eyes was a nice touch. She was also fantastic at capturing much of the raw grittiness of “Letterbomb,” a perfect song to tell Johnny off after he pulls a knife on her. Unfortunately, I was distracted somewhat by the choreography of this song with its “Acid Queen” arm windmills that made me cringe. The Broadway aspects of the choreography didn’t sit well with me throughout the show, but I’ll have to explain what I mean in the next post.
On a last note, Dawn hit a vital point in regards to the characters: they are, with the exception of St. Jimmy, one-dimensional. But as with the choreography, I’ll save that for the next post… and hopefully I’ll get there…