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Tag Archives: The Who’s Tommy

Next Stop: Broadway?

Tony Vincent and John Gallagher, Jr. in Green Day's American Idiot

John Gallagher, Jr. and Tony Vincent in Green Day's American Idiot at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

If you are a fan of a punk or pop band (or a punk/pop fan for that matter) as well as the theater, you rarely would think of your favorite band creating new wonders for what some believe is the old, worn out, medium of live theater.

I thought I’d never see the day when a rock band from the 21st century would endeavor to bring an album to the stage again. The night before I saw Green Day perform live on Good Morning America in May at Central Park, I saw a production of the The Who’s Tommy performed by the Gallery Players in Brooklyn, NY. The musical was fabulously performed, with an earnest, fresh cast, and though the show itself is a a bit dated, the love for the music never dies with Tommy. Who can’t rock out to “Pinball Wizard” or get emotional with “See Me, Feel Me” or be mesmerized with the eerie premise of “Fiddle About” or be astounded by the power of “Acid Queen”?

Yet, the rock musical coming directly from a band these days is a rare proposition. Traditional Broadway crowds don’t like the loud, bold sounds of rock on their stages, but Broadway needs fresh musicals, the backbone of the Broadway economy, to survive. Current Broadway musicals like On the Heights (a great show originally performed downtown that moved to B’way), Rock of Ages (a show that you have to pay me to go see), Mama Mia (really? really?) and Billy Elliot (I’m glad all three kids who play the title character won Tonys, but I’m not paying $100 to see it) are thriving somewhat at the moment, but all in all, Broadway needs a few good, loud, raucous and audacious, pure rock musicals for a shot in the veins. Certain musicals, created by less-Broadway traditional musicians or theater folks, such as Rent and Spring Awakening, bring excitement and freshness to the stage and lure in new audiences that replace the older, staler B’way theatrical models. Mind you, I have never seen either Rent or Spring Awakening in full, mostly because I have issues with over-hyped productions of any sort, but I follow Broadway closely enough to know the storylines, the music, and the impact that both shows had on bringing new audiences into the theater and shaking up the status quo.

Well, there’s at least two rock-based shows on off-Broadway currently making their way to the big stage over the next nine months that will impact Broadway in a positive way: Green Day’s American Idiot and Lizzie Borden The Show, though Lizzie Borden does not originate from a band’s album. So let’s get back to the original premise: it’s good to know that in the near future, an actual band will bring some fresh spunk to the Broadway stage, and that band is Green Day and that show is American Idiot, which officially opened at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on September 17th.

While it’s not a done deal that Green Day’s American Idiot (or Lizzie Borden for that matter), will actually make it to the Great White Way, it’s a forgone conclusion at this point that more than likely it will. It’s got everything going for it: powerhouse Broadway veterans such as Michael Mayer (Director) and Tom Hulce (Producer), and a cast that is incredibly talented, including Spring Awakening lead John Gallagher, Jr., the irresistible Tony Vincent, and Rebecca Naomi Jones, of the Passing Strange cast, and this isn’t even taking into consideration the band, Green Day, or their seminal 2004 album, American Idiot. All of this equals one thing potentially: next stop, Broadway.

Green Day’s American Idiot, in previews for the last two weeks, opened to generally good local reviews today, including reviews in newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Fransisco Examiner, and the San Jose Mercury News, and blogs such as SFist, The Dope Report, and a review/report on the opening night from Rolling Stone. All of the reviews were generally positive, with some constructive criticism thrown in, but for the most part, positive. Of course, not everything is honky dory, as in this hyper-negative review from Jim Harrington at the A+E Blog from the Mercury News. It’s so hyper-negative, though, it kind of sounds as if the guy thought that the band was playing, and not a cast of 19 and a six-piece backup band. Harrington, who is a fan of Green Day, has nothing positive to say, and I find it difficult to believe that he found nothing redeeming in the show after reading the other reviews. Maybe he was just having a “Red Tide” moment, as it were.

On the whole, reading reviews from Green Day fans at the Green Day Community as well as the majority of reviews above, I’d say that with a few tweaks in the storyline (it’s consistently noted as weak), American Idiot could land in New York and London’s West End.

Just in case it doesn’t happen, however, Billie Joe has the right attitude toward it all, as reported in the New York Times:

For his part Mr. Armstrong, whose early Green Day performances were at 924 Gilman Street, a well-known local performance space, said he’d love to see the show make it to Broadway. But he’s not worried if that doesn’t happen.

“I think that would be cool,” he said of a New York run. “But if it ends up playing Gilman Street, that’s cool too.”

*Review links from the Green Day Community’s American Idiot Musical Thread
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The Audience

Green Day started their 2009 concert tour on July 3 in Seattle. So far, they have toured Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Fargo, and Minneapolis and have about 500 more cities to go before they finish up next year. I’ve made sure not to watch videos of the band playing for the most part until after I see them later this month in Albany and then again at the two Madison Square Garden shows. I’ve heard so much bitching and moaning about the setlist over at the Green Day Community from pre-AI fans and those who have seen GD’s stadium shows before this tour to last a lifetime — you’ll have to find out what the issues are on your own, if you care to know. So since I’ve only seen them live once at Good Morning America, I’ve decided to experience the band as the band would like to present itself… even if I would love to hear older songs and have the setlist sound a little more unlike the American Idiot tour than I think it may sound. Oh well. Cie la vie. Shit happens.

I’ve made a few exceptions for some special moments that more than likely won’t be repeated at subsequent shows, like this rare rendition of Billie Joe Armstrong singing “Minnesota Girl” in honor of his wife, who’s from Minnesota (and where they met) at last night’s show. I’ve also made it a point of watching videos of Green Day inviting members of the audience up to stage in order to have them try their hand at ‘being in the band.’

My two favorites so far happened early in the tour, the first in Seattle, and the other in Vancouver:

Kamran Inram plays Jesus of Suburbia – Seattle

Michael Aaron Keith bumps it with Billie Joe Armstrong on Longview – Vancouver

I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, but I have never seen a band do what Green Day does when it comes to the audience. While I have only seen them once, I’ve seen enough other GD concerts on tape (Bullet in a Bible, Live 8 in Germany, Rock AM Ring in Germany — full video no longer available on Comcast, where I saw it — and a bunch of pre-American Idiot stuff) to know that they have an amazing synergy with their audience unlike any band I’ve been privileged to see, except maybe for Gwar, but I think it’s the blood and costumes that gives Gwar that special something something. Ultimately, it’s got something to do with GD’s guts and courage — who else would even dare to bring an unknown factor into their stage show? I can’t even think of a band that’s done it before, though I’m sure… yes?… that there have been others?

Which brings me momentarily to the American Idiot – The Musical production coming up soon in Berkeley. The night and several-beers-at-the-bierhaus before I saw GD at at 8AM on GMA, I went to see a friend in a production of The Who’s Tommy performed live for the first time by the Gallery Players in Brooklyn. I had never seen a full production of the show before and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was completely and pleasantly surprised by the energy and dynamism of the cast. I’ve seen The Who perform a few of the songs from their album live and it was amazing, and the Gallery Players cast really nailed it — except that the audience wouldn’t move or tap their feet, which annoyed the shit out of me.

I’m trying to figure out in my head what rhetorical devices the cast of AI-TM will employ to bring that same existing synergy between GD and the audience to the live stage. GD songs scream to be sung to and shouted back… It’s going to be an interesting exercise, especially when (not if) the show comes to Broadway. I’ll tell you one thing, if AI-TM is good when I see it in New York, I’m not going to be sitting in the audience asking permission from New York theater snobs to bounce up and down in my seat… if that’s the way the director wants it.

Anyway, this is rambling now. I’m in a hotel in Baltimore after a family reunion and I haven’t been able to post anything in a few days since life is a bit hectic. I’ll fix this up later when I get back to NYC.