Broadway Billie in My Red Hat by Erial Grove - London, O2, Oct. 24, 2009
DATELINE OCTOBER 24, 2009, LONDON
I posted the following on Feb. 23, 2010:
When I saw Green Day at the London O2 back in October, I brought a shiny red hat all the way from New York for Billie. When he asked for it during “King for a Day,” it was a semi-perfect toss and a great catch and he just looked like the perfect Broadway showman. The video below isn’t the best, but at about 3:58, you can see him catch it, parade around, and then do his best little James Cagney impersonation.
King for a Day – London at the o2 – October 24, 2009 – Bad Video, but it shows Billie catching my red hat at 3:58 to near end of video.
At the first O2 show the night before, I stood for the first time near the end of the catwalk. It was a spot that was enjoyable but I won’t do again. I like to see all of the band, and not just BJA. I had my “Green Day’s American Idiot” t-shirt on from the Berkeley show and someone had given Billie a pink fuzzy hat (I think it was my friend Gerg). The next thing I know, he looked at me with a slightly wicked smile and literally did a James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” move with the hat in his hand. I swear to God he saw my shirt. I had by this time seen five Green Day shows and I had NEVER seen him do this move before… straight outta B’way. I still crack up with laughter when I think of it.
Broadway Debut – Bring It On
The move that Billie Joe did so briefly at that London show on Oct. 23, 2009 at the end of the catwalk will never be forgotten in my mind. If you’ve seen American Idiot on Broadway, it’s the move Johnny and St. Jimmy do during the “St. Jimmy” song line, “it’s comedy… and tragedy…” The two move together in old-fashioned vaudeville-style unison, swinging their arms back and forth in unison and moving their leg simultaneously. It’s a hard move to explain, but if you’ve seen the show, you know what I mean.
Now, Billie Joe Armstrong will do that move onstage all this week, as he takes on the role of St. Jimmy for Tony Vincent, who, for personal reasons and vacation, will be taking a two-week break from the show. I hope all is well with you, Tony! Here’s Tony doing St. Jimmy in Times Square recently. Vincent’s understudies, Joshua Kobak and Andrew Call, will cover the role from Oct. 5-10.
Tony Vincent Performs “St. Jimmy” in Times Square with Cast of American Idiot – blockhead29
Rumors of Billie Joe appearing in the musical surfaced on a Broadway message board a day prior to the American Idiot talkbacks that took place last week, 9/14-9/19. It was nothing much, just a poster saying that the press release would go out in a day or two. When nothing materialized, we all took it for one of the many rumors that come out about Green Day and the show, but then, another rumor came out that Green Day was performing in Boston at a secret show earlier this week, and combined with some other things, my Spidey-sense started kicking up. Something was afoot, and soon, we would all find out.
Twitter was going a bit crazy on Friday, when someone from the Twitterverse tweeted that “my coworker’s husband made this really cool lipstick for billie joe armstrong that writes in blood. He’s going to use it in AI tomorrow!” That tomorrow would have been Saturday, and there wasn’t any clue about it and didn’t Billie Joe go home like he said he would just the week previously? The plot thickened when he was spotted in the West Village on Saturday (yes, somehow, people know where he is in public, lol), but then Saturday’s performance came and went, and no Billie Joe in the show.
Unfortunately, once the lipstick information got on Twitter, all bets started being called off as to whether the information would stay secret or not. In fact, it may have prompted (or may not have prompted), Billie Joe to Tweet on Saturday:
You got a secret, Billie Joe? Really? Lol. What could it be? Well, actually, it could have been two things, the first about him appearing in the show, and the second, there was a strange little piece out of nowhere that Green Day was performing a secret show in Boston on 9/25, in the same place where they were arrested so many years ago for public indecency and inciting a riot. As the Twitterverse picked up more steam regarding the rumor of BJA appearing in the show — some of us started joking about it. Somehow, this entire announcement was beginning to feel a bit like the crazy announcement of the Foxboro Hot Tubs shows back in April when DJ Rich Russo announced the Bowery Electric show. Chaotic and crazy, but in the end, wonderful.
Yesterday, Sunday, 9/26, the charity event, Broadway Cares, an Actor’s Equity Foundation that raises money to support AIDS research, held their annual street fair and event. They had some excellent merchandise up for auction from various Broadway shows, including this beautiful musical phrase from “Good Riddance,” signed by Billie Joe:
Good Riddance Musical Phrase Signed by Billie Joe Armstrong - Broadway Cares Auction - Thanks to Plaid Ducky for the heads up!
Photographs with Billie Joe, John Gallagher, Jr., Stark Sands, and Tony Vincent were also supposed to happen yesterday, but things got lost in the crazy shuffle of the fair that occurred on 44th Street in front of the theater and Gallagher got stuck in traffic trying to get to the theater. (He tweeted about it yesterday, updating everyone on his whereabouts.) I guess because of all of the chaos, the photos didn’t happen, but the following did, and fans of Green Day heard it first, officially, which actually feels kinda special:
I’m gonna be playing the part of St. Jimmy in AI on broadway sept 28 thru Oct 3. All week! See ya there! Rage n love-billie joe about 19 hours ago via ÜberTwitter
BJA as St. Jimmy with My Green Lei - Albany, Times Union Center, July 25, 2009
So there you have it! Billie Joe, who from what I hear, has been thinking of playing this role since the show started, will finally go on in the part of St. Jimmy, and will make his Broadway acting debut from 9/28-10/3, for eight shows, and then off to South America for him and his bandmates for that leg of the 21st Century Breakdown tour.
Michael Mayer, at one of the talkbacks last week said that “BJA was the reincarnation of Al Jolson,” and I can see that, with a little James Cagney, and frankly, Marlene Dietrich thrown in, too. These three were great performers and showpeople, full of energy and verve from back in the day. While I’m not too impressed with Billie Joe’s acting chops, (he’s ok, and has appeared on a few shows here and there, though he does excellent voiceover work in John Roecker’s Live Freaky! Die Freaky!), I am completely impressed by his St. Jimmy chops, and I will never forget seeing him that first time in Albany last June 2009, with him wearing the silly green lei that I had brought for him, chewing up the stage as the enigmatic and crazed St. Jimmy. Literally, one of the most powerful performances of a song at a rock show that I have ever seen.
I didn’t think I’d be able to see Billie Joe in the part this week. I’m broke. Flat-out broke from my Green Day adventures of the last year, and I have no one to blame but myself… and Green Day, lol. But thanks to Nicole W-M, I’ll be seeing the show once this week, on Thursday, unless some miracle happens and I get to see it again. From what I understand, it’s already sold out since the official announcement went out after Billie Joe’s tweet.
Some Dude, aka, Billie Joe Armstrong - American Idiot Talkback, 9/19/10 - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Three Points - Brooklyn, Wednesday, 9/14/10 - Photo by GDM
Last week in New York began with a storm, literally. On Tuesday, September 14th, 2010, the day that Billie Joe Armstrong was to attend the first of a series of five American Idiot University Talkbacks — opportunities for students to hear the creative team and cast talk about the show and ask questions (a tradition on Broadway) — tornadoes touched down in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. The storm devastated the trees of our city landscape and caused a hella lot of damage. I can’t say it’s because Billie Joe, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool swept into town that day; they were already here. Billie Joe appeared at the Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon on Friday, September 10th, 2010. [VIDEO/DONATE HERE] On Monday, September 13th, 2010, Green Day, along with touring musicians, Jason White, Jason Freese and Jeff Matika, and the full cast of American Idiot performed “Last of the American Girls” at New York Jets stadium in New Jersey. [AUDIO/VIDEO HERE] I was originally unsure about the choice of songs until I saw the performance. LOTAG at a football game? Come on, it’s about girls, but frankly, it’s about powerful girls, and women that can blow up cars with the strength of their thoughts; have you seen the music video of it? Who needs football when you have that kind of power! [VIDEO HERE]
Green Day and Cast - New York Jets Stadium Opening - Photo GDA Picture Vault
Green Day and the cast sounded great, with the women of the cast surrounding the band, singing in harmony with Billie Joe’s lead and adding some intricate melodies (Tom Kitt arranged, perhaps?), even if their mics were a bit low. The boys of the American Idiot show? They were relegated to the back risers, rocking out and trying not to fall off at the same time. Billie Joe sounded, and frankly, looked, great. Like a rock star, cause he is one.
Billie Joe with PBR Cans for Autographs - Photo by Green Day Mind
There is another side to the dude, though, and over five nights, despite having a head cold, and ending with a huge appearance at the 92StY in a talk with Jujamcyn Theaters president, Jordan Roth, and AI director, Michael Mayer, Billie Joe Armstrong donned his flannels and his old man Kangol hat (which covered up the remaining vibrant and brassy blond still at the ends of his hair) and sat down and just talked about American Idiot, the album, and American Idiot, the Broadway show. Like a dude, who happened to have a show on Broadway, and feeling, in his own words, like a rookie again.
I would love to sit down and have a small group conversation with Billie Joe Armstrong about theater and performance. I love the theater, particularly experimental theater or anything that pushes the performance edge, but alas since that has a slim, if not zero percent, chance of happening, the next best thing was to spend five nights in the St. James Theater, three of them watching American Idiot, five talkbacks, and ending with the 92StY on Sunday, September 19th.
Two Nights with An American Idiot – Berkeley Repertory Theater – September 2009
Heart Like a Hand Grenade
When I saw American Idiot in Berkeley for two nights back in September of 2009, I was worried about two things: that I would hate the show and that my love and sense of experimental theater (which I suffer from acutely), would walk away feeling that the album American Idiot was slaughtered by Broadway. I am not a big fan of Broadway. Too much money and glitz and not enough shows that appeal to my sense of theatrical anarchy. My theater tends to lurk in dark and dank black boxes, with minimal theatrical assets. I’m always looking for the real and the crazy in a show, something that makes me look at the world in a different way, from a different angle. I’m a theater punk, what can I say? Don’t give it to me straight, give it to me strange and odd, is my theatrical motto.
I wrote about the show in a brutally honest way: the book needed growth and character/actor depth, but was essentially solid; the orchestration (and hence the music itself) was the star of the show; there was too much choreography that gave lip service to punk denizens; John Gallagher, Jr. wasn’t bringing the rage and love to the Johnny character; the set was brilliant and video outstanding; the female vocals were fabulous; and the director wasn’t necessarily the right man for the job, but he could sufficiently get the job done. What bothered me most was that the show did not bring the “rage and love” of the iconic heart grenade image of the American Idiot album. I wanted the line, “she’s holding onto my heart like a handgrenade,” made real. Pull that pin out and make it explode, just like the album and the songs as sung live by Green Day do. I wanted that. I didn’t get it from the overall production that first night. I knew, however, that it was in workshop form and still developing, but I was actually a bit panicked about the entire process of seeing the show. I had to have a few drinks afterward and a bit of a cry. [Read GDM Review here: Pt. 1 (Book); Pt. 2 (Arrangement and Cast); Pt. 3 (Choreography and Direction)]
Pull the Pin and See What Happens
On night two, I let the critic and punk theater snob in me go. I listened to the show and watched what I saw onstage from the standpoint of its star, the music and arrangement of American Idiot, and I knew that I would be in love by the time this punk rock opera came to Broadway.
Fast Forward to the Present
The Rookie Again (And What An Outfit) - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Since September 2009, I’ve seen the show a bajillion times on Broadway. I take every opportunity to tell my Broadway and theater friends to go and see it before it closes, which is currently scheduled for the end of January 2011 (though B’way shows can abruptly close prior to their official dates, so see it now!). The reaction from them has been mixed, but the majority are quite taken with it. My friend Yana Landowne, a director in New York City, recently told me that she saw the show and wept at the end. While she wasn’t absolutely familiar with the album prior to seeing the show, she told me that the music combined with the overall design and the enthusiasm of the cast, along with a powerful story of youth setting out on their own and failing, moved her more than anything she’s seen on Broadway in a long time. Yana and I were both members of the theatrical, satirical and political group, Billionaires For Bush during the 00’s, and we fought hard and long to bring the economic realities of the Bush Administration to the attention of America: the man was made by the elite and wealthy of this country and for those same people. His administration had nothing of good for the economic welfare of middle-class and lower middle-class Americans. We thought we could make a difference if we told the people what was happening, but alas, he was elected President again in 2004. For a long while, we felt like (and still do in many regards), utter failures in our attempts at life, just like Johnny, Will, and Tunny, the three lead characters of the show, with one failing at life in the big city, another suffering from being a clueless and stoned unexpected parent, and the third a kid caught up in the shiny glamor of televised reality teevee-war, who looses a leg, but gains the love of an Extraordinary Girl in the process. They left home and loss the game of life, but at the least they tried as hard or well as they could.
Last week, I saw American Idiot three times. By the time the show ended on the second night, from my seat in the balcony, I was crying from the emotional journey of the young adults onstage who had taken the show and pulled the emotional pin out of my bleeding heart. I’ve encouraged Green Day fans to see the show, too. Some of them are super enthusiastic, while others, not so much. I’ve read more than a few Green Day fans who despise the idea of American Idiot being on Broadway. They have only seen clips of the show on Youtube, or the cast singing with the band on the Grammies, the Tonys, or last last week at the New York Jets game, and because of whatever reasons (‘I want to see the band, not those cast members,’ ‘The actors are trying to get famous from Green Day,’ ‘I hate that Broadway musical shit,’ “The music is destroyed’), their minds are closed to the larger picture of what Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer have created: a modern-day opera of immediacy and relevancy that stays true to the music and ideas that we fell in love with from the album in the first place. It doesn’t destroy the original album but brings it literally, to life.
American Idiot University
American Idiot University with Panel and Set - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
The talkbacks during the week of September 14-19th, 2001, were pretty neat. I’ve noted a few times in posts how I sneaked into two of the talkbacks. I even told Tom Hulce that I sneaked into two, treating them as “second-acting it,” used by Broadway-goers to walk into a theater for the second act of a show. He said, “I understand, I’ve first-acted a few shows in my life. Thank you for coming.” I’ve spoken with Michael Mayer and a few of the cast members here and there at various events, but it was the first time that I had spoken with Hulce. Why I told him that, I don’t know, but I have the spirit and mind of Green Day: a tendency to say anything off the top of my head, and sneak to the pit from the lawn if you can; take the rules and bend them if you must. The opportunity to see a bunch of Green Day fans and hear Billie Joe Armstrong talk about the show was too great of an opportunity to let safely pass by.
On Friday, I found myself hanging out with Larry Livermore, along with Tony Anastasi from England, ToniAnn Graffigna from Staten Island, Lauren Banjo from New Jersey and a few other Green Day fans. I mentioned to Larry (who I’ve met here and there at shows in NYC) that I wanted to one day write academically about the show. When I said it, he scoffed under his breathe, and while at the time it hurt a bit, I had to realize who I was talking to, the man who gave the first incarnation of Green Day, Sweet Children and Green Day, their first starts back in day. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, and yes, he’s a punk, and he’s probably heard it all when it comes to Green Day and fans. I’ve often wanted to talk to him about the history of Green Day and East Bay punk, but I’m always afraid of getting that same scoffing reaction, so I never bring it up. Sadly.
David Cote, Time Out New York Head Theater Critic - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
David Cote, the lead theater critic of Time Out New York, moderated the talks. Over the five nights the panel included: Billie Joe Armstrong, director Michael Mayer, lightning designer Kevin Adams and set designer Christine Jones (both Tony Award winners for the show), arranger/orchestrator Tom Kitt, video/production designer Darrel Maloney, assistant choreographer Lorrin Lotarro, costume designer Andrea Lauer, music director Carmel Dean and assistant music conductor, Jared Stein, and actors John Gallagher, Jr., Michael Esper, Stark Sands, Tony Vincent, Declan Bennant, Ben Thompson, Gerard Canonico, Christina Sajous, and Alyssha Umphress. The second and fourth nights of talkbacks, I recorded the audio so that I could remember what was said. SundayMorning6AM from the Green Day Community YouTubed the event on 9/15/10, and you can watch the three parts here: Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 2.
American Idiot University Q&A
Below are paraphrased questions and answers of two of the talkbacks that I attended. I’ve transcribed things as well as possible, but hey, I do not get paid for this, so take it with a grain of salt at how completely accurate exact “ums” and y’knows” are. The majority of questions were asked by Cote. Please note for Green Day fans who may not be familiar with theater jargon, there is technical stuff about theater below in general, i.e., “ownership” means taking the play/musical form within yourself as an actor in a performance, going all out in portrayal of character and script; “movement,” is the contrast between ‘real’ everyday movement and that portrayed as stylized in a show, can be used in dance or non-musical performances as well as musical ones and comes primarily from experimental theater ideas.
I’ve taken the time out to transcribe two of these sessions because I feel it’s really important for Green Day and non-Green Day fans to understand where both Green Day and the cast are coming from… a place of love for what they have created. Of course, for those who haven’t seen the show, many things may not be understandable in terms of the stage action.
Of course, my personal highlight of the entire five nights is that my blog was mentioned as an opening comment on the second night. You can see that below.
Green Day Mind Blog Mentioned at American Idiot Talkbacks. Thank you, David! – Video by sundaymorning6am
Are the characters in the show punks by your definition?
Billie Joe Answers A Question - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Billie Joe:Not necessarily. I don’t think so. It’s like the outcasts come in all different forms, not necessarily a punk rocker, whether you are, I have no idea, all the other alternative lifestyles out there… I think from us, that’s our background for sure, and it’s ground zero for us, and we are like, the mafia, once you think you’re out, you’re back in.
Billie Joe on hearing a workshop of the show for the first time.
Billie Joe: … The first time everyone was sitting down and I didn’t know what to expect and I had a really bad hangover. So, I came in and I watched. We came in on the West Side Highway and it was slow and there was this big… very large man with his asscrack hanging out in a car that was stopped in front of us, ‘What the hell is this guy doing?,’ and we’d go and take off, and we actually get there and uh… I had a bagel and some Advil. So we were watching and all these voices came out with Tom Kitt who did all the musical direction, so all these voices came out, it was like whack-a-mole… y’know, out of nowhere, here’s this voice here and it’s coming all together, and it was just beautiful to hear the arrangements put in that way. And for a while I so wanted to get away from American Idiot because we were doing 21st Century Breakdown, but to hear it performed in that way, was just like, it was totally refreshed. And it was brand new to me.
Can you tell us a little how you first got introduced to American Idiot and what attracted you to it?
Michael Mayer, Director and Book Co-Writer, American Idiot - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Michael Mayer: I listened to the album when it first came out.. and I was driving everyday [in L.A. working on a movie]… and that was the CD I listened to in the car, pretty much non-stop for six weeks. Wherever I left off, I would drive and listen to it on the way back. And after a while I realized I was hearing a story inside it, and listening over and over to it again, and it started calling to me in the same way that a cast recording would call to me, like when I was a little fag back in Rockville MD, when I was listening to live show tunes, “Oh this is my favorite song, this is my favorite song.”… So it was this incredible collection of songs, but the story in it spoke to me, maybe because I’m from Rockville, MD (where one should not go back to) and moved to the city, and was like the character of Jesus of Suburbia, so I related to it. And it seemed really stage-worthy to me, and it felt like a punk rock opera, or rock opera, or something opera-ish.
Can you address the arc of the story, it starts with incredible dissatisfaction with suburban blandness, but ends with a homecoming. As someone that doesn’t speak too well of returning to Rockville, is there a message there?
Michael Mayer: … Where you come from is a little bit of who you are. And something essential gets lost in a person if they look for… something that… can’t be integrated into themselves, and these characters are all in danger of losing themselves. And part of what the homecoming is, is that they come back and reclaim something that is essential about themselves and may be the thing that will bring them to a better future than what they had before their journey.
David Cote to Darrel Maloney, video and production designer on the pattern and chaos of video used in the show.
Darrel Maloney: I think we all knew what “American Idiot” [the song] was going to look like, and how that was going to work, but then after that… I was kinda terrified whether the video screens would stay on after that and what’s that going to be and how people would react in front of this video that was happening. And oddly enough as it went on, we started adding more video, and what I realized was two things that people could [react to]: one was chaos and one was pattern, but if you turned a video monitor on to one side of the theater, people would look there and be distracted, but if you have 43 of them, they could actually sit back and watch all of them as a background to the actor.
Michael Mayer: You know what else was kind of cool that we discovered in the process was finding when the video projection would happen… on the walls, using the whole set as a screen because that changed how we would have to light everything and the staging. We thought early on [in the show] that we would use it more, but decided not until “Holiday,” until we were actually making a movie up there.
Lorrin Lotarro, assistant choreographer,on the rock concert-type movement in the show.
Lorrin Lotarro: We saw Billie Joe jump off the stage and into everybody’s arms and we decided to put that into the show, body surfing… into the show… The thing about [choreographer] Stephen Hoggett that is so brilliant, that he opened up my mind to what movement means, dance is movement, just simple movement, that it doesn’t mean that it has to be technical movement, and we had this group of amazing actors who were great movers, but if you asked them to warm up at the barre [a railing used by ballet dancers for warm-ups], they would bring in some beers. What Stephen did was to create a way of movement that meant something to the actors that everyone could do…. and [was worked on] collectively and collaboratively. Bring two moves into rehearsal that would bring out your idea of living in a small town, punching, anything you want… We faced each other in a circle and taught each other the movement…. The actors felt a real sense of authority, and I’ve never had to give a note on acting full out since they all felt a sense of ownership of the material.
Michael Esper (Will) on the violent (frenetic) movement in the show and how the actors work with it and not twist ankles. Esper noted that he had twisted both of his ankles during the show.
Michael Esper: We do feel a sense a ownership and we’ve created it as a sense of family and we became a family so easily, so it’s easy to… do it together and have a good time. Injuries are all worth it in the end because you are doing American Idiot.
Stark Sands on the development of his character, Tunny, who goes off to fight in the war and takes a wrenching personal journey in the process.
Mayer, Gallagher, Jr., Sands, and Vincent - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Stark Sands: I played a soldier a few times before this, and that really helped me sort of build the ideas of where he’s coming from. I’ve never played someone who joined up, they were already in to it. So that was very interesting investigating what would make someone want to… Michael was really great in helping me and allowing me to build this with his help in deciding why this guy would join up, why he would put himself out there like that. I was too scared to walk onstage and just sing pretty because otherwise… I found a way to make it meaningful for me and hopefully that carries out. It’s a really wonderfully rewarding journey to take, and at the end of it, I feel like I walk away with something… I’ve actually found something to take home and I don’t end up punching and kicking, up on the stage.
Billie Joe: There’s a lot of vets that have come to the show, and I’ve heard a lot of comments about his performance and how they relate to it. I think that’s a big deal, especially with a lot of these guys coming home right now.
John, your character loves and looses in a big way. Do you draw a lot of personal history from that?
John Gallagher, Jr.:Absolutely, as much as you can. In Johnny’s case, it’s rather extreme, I think… Johnny and the other characters are in a state of arrested development where, y’know, I’m 26 years old, and we decided that he’s about 25-26, at this point where he should be in a different kind of place in life, a much more developed and mature place, but for a variety of different reasons, he’s really stunted, he comes from this really broken family. It’s the love story that you find in a lot of adolescent kinds of films or plays or stories, that first love you find when you’re about 17-18 and you fall in love. I don’t think that his character, other than the camaraderie and the love that he shares from his brothers, his best friends, Will and Tunny… I don’t think that he’s ever been shown any real love since his father passed away at a young age. This is the story that we came up with for him, that’s only hinted at in those letters and journal entries. While that is kind of vague… we really wanted to make sure that was solid and that we had a full backstory [an actors ‘blueprint’ to a character]. And in his case, it’s really complicated because when you haven’t been given the tools to figure out how to love someone and be loved, it can be really messy. He’s going through this troubled time with this kind of split personality situation going on with St. Jimmy and this entity that is not real comes between them [Johnny and Whatsername] and ultimately tears them apart. But there is a lot to be learned from the love… and the loss.
The book [story of the show], the lines between the songs as well as the story that actually doesn’t get spoken, is that all from you, Michael? I know that there is a booklet from American Idiot?
Mayer:Once Billie first gave me the permission to go ahead and start dreaming this up in a real way, he made some materials available to me that I didn’t know about, including a special edition booklet of American Idiot [LINER NOTES HERE], that had these letters and journals entries that [Billie Joe] had written. I was like, oh, OMG, this is gold, y’know… I started playing with them right away and at first, I was extremely faithful to where they were in the booklet as they related to the lyrics. And then I started pulling them apart. By the time we came to New York, I gave some of them to the two other guys [Will and Tunny]… it was just Johnny at first… and then we started finding that we needed fewer of them and I basically changed a few little things here and there… but it’s all grounded in those little journal entries.
I want to ask about the audience reaction to the show. What’s the sort of thing that is happening at the stage door with people? What kind of reactions are you getting from fans?
Ben Thompson:[Gets joking sad face] They all hate it, it’s awful. [General awwh and laughter from audience] No, I mean tonight was a great example, you guys were incredibly exuberant, and I’ve found that, generally, to be the case. I’ve said it before, but we have two… main types of people coming to the show, we have theater fans, and then we have Green Day fans. [Wooo! ensues from audience] Many times at the stage door, people will be like, this is my first B’way show, or I’ve never heard their music before. A great example is my dad. He knew who they were from me, but he had never heard their music… and he now owns, I think, every album. So we are making Green Day fans into theater fans and theater fans into Green Day fans, so it’s like two different groups of people who you would never think could exist in the same world, and thanks to Billie and Michael, they do. [Applause]
Billie Joe:Speaking of fathers, Alysha’s dad surprised her the other day with a Green Day tattoo, a really, really, big one. Alysha tried to show us the tattoo on her cellphone; and related that her dad flew in for Monday Night Football and they were having lunch, and he showed her the tattoo. She literally thought that it was a decal at first. It is the Heart/Handgrenade image of American Idiot.
Stark Sands:And speaking of parents, that’s another thing I would add is that in addition to these two types of people that Ben is talking about, one thing that I really notice is that there are parents who bring their kids here who come out and will be very honest and say, “You know, I didn’t think I was going to like this, but it was awesome!” So that was another wonderful thing to change someone’s perspective for their 13th birthday or something.
I remember one of Michael’s previous shows was Spring Awakening. I wrote a book about it [Spring Awakening, In the Flesh by David Cote]. Parents and children talked about it after the show and the show is about adults exploiting children and children rebelling in various ways. In this, we only see the adults, but has there been some kind of dialogue about the world you’ve created?
Spring Awakening: In the Flesh by David Cote
Mayer: I certainly have seen a few conversations about drug use. I have certainly seen a few parents yanking some kids down the aisle when they see the syringe use, they panic a little bit, but the ones who stay, they see that there is a method to our madness in that regard… But other than that, by and large, it really isn’t about a generational disparity. It really isn’t. The adults that are referred to in this play are absent. It’s a very different world… it’s not about that struggle, it’s about people who should have individuated at this point anyway. It’s more about people becoming an adult as opposed to being a kid and moving into adolescence.
David Cote: I heard somewhere that the show has affected you, Billie Joe [Uh, probably he heard it on this blog?] in the sense that you have added the words [Rebecca Naomi Jones’] “Wake Up” to the song “Letterbomb,” live?
Billie Joe:We weren’t even playing Letterbomb. We’ve only played that song a few times since [it came out], but this last tour we ended up adding it, and I just ended up doing it cause Rebecca Naomi Jones is kinda badass…”
Billie Joe on what it is like to have his songs sung by women.
Billie Joe: Yeah… That was… yeah, that was nice. I remember when Mike first heard them and he said, ‘Wow, your songs sound better when they are sung by women.’ … These women can sing like acrobats, and it’s just beautiful…. Y’know… a lot… uh… They sound better than what I do. They are just beautiful singers, all around. Because of the arrangements, you don’t really know… I mean… Me and Mike and Tre are a three-piece and we are fighting to be heard. I think that’s been the main argument of our band, [us fighting to hear who will be louder]. So hearing arrangements with these women singing them, everything is almost like the music is pulled back and the vocals up in front, you just hear… it adds a whole new dimension, dynamic, and range. I mean, they can sing a frigging dictionary, it’s amazing.
WTF? Maloney, Armstrong, Mayer - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Iconic image of the album, a handgrenade with a bloody hand, what is the image about?:Billie Joe:Rage and Love. Heart, pull the pin, it’ll explode.”
Where did the idea come from?
X - Unclogged
Billie Joe:John Roecker [director of Live Freaky!, Die Freaky! and the unreleased Green Day documentary, Heart Like A Hand Grenade],… inspired by an illustration [Roecker] did of a bloody heart on an X album, and the American Idiot cover illustrator, Chris Bilheimer, came up with the image. Michael Mayer asked, “What came first, the lyric or the image?” Billie Joe: “The image came first, and since we had that, we changed the lyrics. In fact, I was talking with [cast member] Alysha Umphress and I told her that some of the lyrics got changed because of the art image and she asked me what lyric got changed and I said, ‘Well, “she’s holding onto my heart like a handgrenade, [laughter] and then I said… that’s uh, pretty much it.”
In terms of the original album, The Wall and Tommy and this show have a view of youth culture as perverted and also an attraction to a messianic figure, a sort of darkness, and militarism. Where the Wall and Tommy influences?
Billie Joe: “Yeah, sure, but I would say even before that… I would also say “A Quick One” by the Who… Every single part of that song is catchy; You take power pop to an extreme level, like a song “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick, super catchy chords, very melodic, three chord mayhem, that’s what’s we were trying to go for, very big, very broad strokes.”
Question for Sands, Gallagher, Vincent, Armstrong from 9/19/10 Talkback “Keeping the energy high, balancing rage and love, St Jimmy, meeting veterans, military and relatives” – NYCForest
Audience Question: Obviously the audience experience is quite different from a rock show vs a musical, and I had a hard time not moving my feet tonight. What do you think is gained in this adaptation to the stage and the audience member’s experience in a rock show and do you think anything is lost between the two?
Billie Joe:It’s just two different things altogether, really, cause it’s more storytelling here, where in a rock show it’s storytelling, but short storytelling or whatever, where people are… it’s just kinda people losing their shit. I would encourage people to do the same thing here, you don’t have to sit down here. Y’know…. I don’t know, I think there was a lot gained in this experience, I don’t think anything was lost. For me, I think the first time I heard it and it was quieter, that was a real adjustment for me, but you have to hear the story, and that was part of the learning process for me.”
Audience Question: The show is very accessible. I’m thinking of the accessibility of the show vs maintaining the edge of the album, which gives the album resonance. Does the accessibility of the show and the reception of the show surprise you in any way? Because I know that as a band, one of the things you thrive on is being on the edge and being actually perceived that way.
Billie Joe:I think that Michael Mayer is on the edge, that’s what I think we share in common. He didn’t want to do anything that was safe, and that’s why I think he got it and he was right, and that’s why he chose us. Yea, I don’t know, I guess, you might as well be dangerous, there’s no other place to be.
Michael Mayer:I think it’s to the extent that we made any accommodation to this venue, it was all in the service of the story, and never about making the story easier. In some cases from Berkeley to New York we made the story more brutal, we had Tunny loose a leg and in Berkeley he was injured in a kind of non-specific way, and that’s something you don’t see too often, in a realistic way, in a Broadway musical.
David Cote: That reminds me of a question from last night when someone asked about “Time of Your Life” being played at the end of the musical, he said it’s like a happy ending.
"That guy was a smartass..." - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Billie Joe: Well, the funny thing about that song is that it’s not called “Time of Your Life,” it’s called “Good Riddance” and that snarky little bastard (I’ll say it), he was kinda… he was kinda… a cunt. He knew good and damned well what the answer was to that question, he just wanted to be a smartass. It’s an encore. So, the curtain goes down, and everyone has acoustic guitars and that’s sorta like the rock show aspect of it.
Audience Question: Is there some song that you wished had been put into the show?
Billie Joe: I remember Tom Hulce saying that “East Jesus Nowhere” could have made it into the show. Michael Mayer:Hulce’s assistant is still insisting on trying to put it in somewhere in the show.
Audience Question: For Kevin Adams, lighting designer, I was looking around and you have a shitload of [lighting] instruments, and I’m wondering if doing the lighting design for this show was different from other shows and what were the difficulties of moving the show from Berkeley?
Kevin Adams: The hard thing, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for the past few years, these rock-pop theater shows have been popular, and I have been very lucky to ride that wave. So I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to do Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, Next to Normal, Hair, and this, I think I’ve … so it was just trying to find a way to find different vocabularies for each show. I knew this show was coming up, and I wouldn’t let a bag of tricks, of strobe tricks, that I had be used for Hair because I wanted to use them for this show.
Audience Question: What kind of struggles did you face with trying to develop the album into a stage production, particularly in terms of story and character development?
Michael Mayer:Well, the whole thing was a process, and I wouldn’t say it was a struggle, because it was a beautiful challenge. And I have to say that we all… we had a wonderful time making it. So even where we got stymied at times about how something should look or could function, it was always a groovy experiment, do you know what I mean? That said, I think one of the big challenges was how to parse the lyrics in a way that would make sense as dialogue, monologue, as hallucination, as a source of connection between people that got penetrated by another force coming through at times. How to create true simultaneity, which is one of the great gifts that the design team gave us in this world that can sustain a multiplicity of voices and lives and images and experiences that cascade around each other and impact each other. It was the surgical approach that was a little painstaking. This line has to actually have a question mark… even if you don’t get the rest between that note and the next. That was the trickiest part.
Lauren Banjo, who got Billie Joe to sing the song “Misery” at a soundcheck in Las Vegas last year, asked a question. She wore a tye-die shirt, which is a bit of a running joke between her and Tre Cool, who at the same soundcheck (I think), told her that he ‘hated tye-die and that she couldn’t come to the show unless she changed her shirt.’ So he gave her a Green Day shirt. [Lauren wrote in to say that it was Chris, who ran the Verizon soundcheck contest from last year, the shirt. ] Lauren asked Billie Joe: In 2005, you said in an interview that an American Idiot musical would only happen over your dead body. I have the recording of the interview on my phone if you want to hear it. Billie Joe responded: “Will it be as loud as that tye-die shirt you’re wearing?” Lauren went on to ask why he changed his mind.
Billie Joe Disses Lauren (But hey, the shirt deserved it!) — laurenbanjo
Lauren with Signed Misery Lyrics from Soundcheck in Las Vegas - Photo by GDM
Billie Joe: No, I don’t remember… things come out of my mouth… I can’t even remember… I believe you, you don’t have to play it for everyone… I don’t think it was… we immediately wanted to do it as soon as we were were asked. We were interested in what they had… what Michael had to say. We saw Spring Awakening. We really didn’t know what was going on with musical theater. We saw Spring Awakening, and I was blown away by it. Because it was y’know, something different, y’know, it was new. He’s a revolutionary dude, so…
Audience Question: Was it hard or easy to put the music into a story?
Billie Joe: Making that record was really hard, really difficult to make. If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.
Audience Question: How do you as actors prepare for the show?
Ben Thompson: During the rehearsal process, early on, starting at Vassar, our amazing choreographer, Stephen Hoggett, basically put us through boot camp and got us into shape, got our bodies ready for this amazing car wreck. Y’know, I think we each have our own ways of preparing for it. These guys [Gallagher, Esper, Sands, etc] , y’know, their emotional journey that they have to go through every night is a different kind of preparation that is a whole other story. We have a mandatory warmup, which is kind of odd for a Broadway musical. That company that Michael was talking [having been created by the cast in a first workshop stage] about at Vassar… the first five minutes of the warmup, it never fails, [we talk to each other about what happened during the day, even if we just saw each other the night before] and it’s like, ok guys, can we focus, ‘[but] we haven’t seen each other since yesterday!?…’ But the warmup really gets us to start that… unity… that we enjoy.
Audience Question: Since you’re acting opposite St. Jimmy for most of the play, I’m kinda confused. Do you consider him a real character or a feeling? I have also heard another interpretation, that St. Jimmy is like a drug?
John Gallagher, Jr.: That’s a great question. The trickiest part of the rehearsal process… was figuring out the relationship between Johnny and St. Jimmy… What made the most sense was that for the first half of the show is, Johnny is in such a fractured and freaked out place, alone in the big city that he’s come to, doesn’t have any friends, wants to meet girls, he’s feeling like a complete screwup. His buddies, he feels, have abandoned him, and he creates what he needs in that moment, which is… this… protector, and this person to guide him. Guides him down a very dangerous and ultimately, wrong path. I made the choice that Johnny really does think he’s a real person, up until that moment when he says, “It’s time to wake up” after Wake Me Up When September Ends, and he sees St. Jimmy’s face turn into his face on those television sets, it’s that moment where he’s probably sober for the first time in months and realizing… the kind of feeling I read about with a lot of addicts when they look in the mirror and say “That’s not me.” To believe the stakes of the show, Johnny really needs to believe that he’s a real person.
Audience Question: To the cast, how does it feel to be working with Green Day in general?
Alysha Umphress:Amazing. They have been nothing but… so completely generous and involved, I think that has been the best part of it. A lot of times when you have famous people involved in shows, it’s like they show up at opening night and they put their name above the title, and y’know, they take some pictures…. They have been so involved from the very beginning, and it’s been so inspiring, they are amazing. No one can top them.
Audience Question: Billie Joe, how did you reach out to society to write the lyrics to inspire so many?
Billie Joe:How did I reach out to society? I don’t know, um… I’m still struggling with that… rephrase the question… let’s get deep… Audience member: “You write about very important things that are going on in the world. Did you interact with anyone that influenced you to write about these important things?” Billie Joe: I think for me, it was my own confusion about what was going on. I never grew up during a time of war, that kind of chaos, that close to a dictatorship, with a president, ‘he who will not be named’ [Crowd whoops]…. There was a lot of reality television happening at the time. Everyone wanted to see these people who weren’t talented and they just had calf muscles and fake tits and put ’em in a room and eventually, they’ll fuck each other. And then, with this other side, you need this kind of toothpaste or your teeth would fall out. Or your dick’s not gonna get hard because you’re not taking this kind of pill. And then you mix all that in and you see these embedded journalists that were going into Iraq and everything was coming together and seeing this on television. And to see those planes smashing into the World Trade Center, seeing it live, right there. I don’t think we ever really as a society, we’ve never seen anything that that’s up close. These are handheld video cameras, this is the kind of stuff that you shoot your little fucking kids with, you see kids growing up, you see the first time you change a diaper, but here what you see is war, that other side of it, and I don’t think anyone expected it. I know I didn’t. It was just chaos. I was just so confused, I just felt paralyzed, I didn’t know what to say. So the song “American Idiot” was the first thing that came to mind.
Audience Question: Bullet in a Bible was recorded of the biggest punk rock concert in history with over 65,000 people. How does it feel to know that you are trying to recreate that feeling with people [onstage]?
John Gallagher, Jr.: I don’t know that we are necessarily… we can’t… that’s something we couldn’t in a million years do, there is something that happens at a Green Day concert that… can’t ever be recreated by anybody that’s not Green Day, especially at a place like Milton Keynes arena, seen by thousands and thousands of people… But bringing it to this kind of venue [a Broadway theater], especially from an actor’s viewpoint, it’s been so rewarding… but it’s rewarding to me as an actor in a way that some plays can’t… bring you to that place. There is something so cathartic about these songs and this music and performing it, and being given a platform to allow it to grow and dig into it and create these characters. The total sweetener is just the fact that it’s Green Day, some of the greatest music ever written and we get to sing it every night is a total gift.
Green Day as Gateway Drug to the History of Punk and Inspiration to Kids in Flannel Departments Everywhere - Photo by Michelle Lawlor
Pinhead Gunpowder. Photo by Michelle Lawlor, The Rock and Roll Picture Show
Michelle Lawlor is another photographer who I’ve been lucky to know over the past year, and I do believe she has the potential to become the next Bob Gruen. She loves music, loves photography, and to me, has a tremendous clarity of eye that always captures the right moment. She captured it at Pinhead Gunpowder back in February, that’s for sure, and Billie Joe’s dress from that night will always be vividly remembered because of her.
Michelle came into town this past weekend to shoot some shots of Niki Lee, who wrote of her Green Day adventures during the American Idiot years and will soon be expanding her work into a book coming out in the near future. Not only that, but the day, Sunday, brought Billie Joe Armstrong to American Idiot on Broadway at the St. James Theatre and at the 92StY, as well as a gig by John Gallagher, Jr. that night at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side. Oh, and Rachel from California was in town, too, so, it was a good day to come in and drag about 50 pounds of photographic equipment around for a day and snap some stuff. I wanted to highlight some of her photographs from the day (she took shots of everything except for the 92StY, which had a strict policy of no photography), and I urge you all to go and check out the set of photos and her blog that she published yesterday. Her site, Lucky 17 Photography, can be found here, including her pictures of Pinhead Gunpowder, the Mystic Knights of the Cobra, Honah Lee, and tons of other bands and events (weddings, gallery openings, etc), and of course, the beautiful shots of this past Sunday. Check the site out and hire before she gets famous and you can’t afford it!
Green Day Over Broadway. Photo by Gavin Boyd, Rolling Stone
Four dates in the life of the Broadway baby called American Idiot stand out for me since seeing the show in Berkeley back in September: The invited Press and Fan Final Soundcheck on 3/23/10, the first preview on 3/24/10, opening night on 4/20/10 and the MTV Special Viewing that occurred on 4/22/10. Since I live in NYC, I had the great fortune of attending all of these special events. This post is a roundup of some of the goings on with the show this past month here in NYC.
Press and Fan Final Soundcheck 3/23/10
An unprecedented invited Press and Fan Final Soundcheck was announced through the Idiot Club and the American Idiot on Broadway Facebook page a few days before the show was to begin its first Broadway preview. The soundcheck press conference occurred in the middle of the day and I made arrangements with work to take a long lunch to go. I attempted to get a blogger press pass and wrote a professional letter to the show’s press agent, and included the name of one of my friends, a top NYC theater critic, who recommended that I write to them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded the courtesy of a reply. At least when I asked at Berkeley, they very kindly sent me an email saying no. I don’t want to sound bitter, but I know that both the production company and press agent for AI have come to this blog. Some sort of reply would have been nice, but I’m not legitimate enough for the courtesy of a reply in New York City. I even mentioned to them how I appeared in the Daily News regarding the show. In fact, several Facebook friends asked me “what I did for the show” and one of them, a television producer who I’ve known since acting school also asked me. And yet… well… whatever. No reply at all. At least a no is a response.
Putting aside all of that, the final soundcheck was a magnificent day. We waited outside for the Idiot interns to check us in, and they recognized me from the American IdiotOn Broadway Facebook page and said hello. After about an hour, I went across the street from the theater to wait for the band to show up to take pictures, and shortly thereafter, Green Day was driven up to the theater and deposited at the front doors. I managed to snap two shots of Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre coming into the theater. It was nice to see Mike for the first time with his blond hair, and Tre was carrying what seemed to be a drumstick case.
American Idiot Soundcheck Billie Joe and Tre, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
American Idiot Soundcheck Mike, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
After they moved into the theater, I went back across the street to wait with everyone, and eventually, the first fifty fans in line, who had been told that they were going to sit in the Orchestra seats, were let in first. About 10 minutes later, the remainder of the line was shepherded into the theater up to the Mezzanine. The folks who had been told that they were going to sit in the Orchestra were actually sitting in the Mezzanine with the rest of us. Official word was that there were too many people in the press corps in the Orchestra, and needless to say, the first fifty fans in line were disappointed. I have a feeling that they were afraid that people would try to rush the stage and attempt to get autographs from the band or cast, a very legitimate possibility.
We bitched and moaned with them for a few minutes, and then the lights started to go down and the sounds of the opening strains of the musical — news and television clips from the Iraq War era — began to play. The huge red velvet curtain slowly went up and the cast stood onstage with their backs toward the audience (a definite and effective change from the Berkeley show), all looking toward the 20 or so television screens embedded in Christine Jones’s excellent set design for the show. The guitar riff to “American Idiot” began, and the cast was off, singing the title song to the show.
American Idiot Sound - Tre Climbs in Bed, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
AI Cast Headbanging During "American Idiot" Soundcheck. Photo by Green Day Mind.
After the song, director Michael Mayer, Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, and Mike Dirnt walked onto the stage to loud claps from the crowd in the peanut gallery. Mayer spoke for a bit about the show and his inspiration and collaboration with Billie Joe on the book. Billie Joe spoke, then Mike, and Tre said something for a second. While Tre was talking, Mike and Billie climbed into the onstage bed prop, the cast piled on top of them, photo ops were had by all, and the event was over. I went back to work while the rest of the Green Day Community gang hung out and went to lunch. Green Day and the cast headed over to Sardi’s, a famous restaurant down the street from the St. James known for its Broadway clientele for more interviews with the “legitimate” press.
All in all (and despite my bitching), the press conference was a great way to start off the feverish run of American Idiot in New York City. The celebration lasted for a solid month and ended with a spectacular bang with good reviews, solid changes to the show, a special MTV showing with the band, hanging with old and new friends, and one of the best After Parties Ever — two appearances by the fabled Foxboro Hot Tubs (more on the latter in a later post).
APRED Clip of American Idiot Cast Singing “American Idiot” and Press Conference, 3/23/10
I didn’t intend to go to the first preview and hadn’t bought a ticket for that night. My first “official night” of seeing American Idiot was actually scheduled for 4/7/10, but a bunch of Idiots had traveled from around the country to come into New York to see the show, and one of them, sadly, couldn’t bring her friend as planned because of her friend’s cancer treatment. She had an extra ticket so I offered to give her some cash for it (which I still have to do), with the proceeds going toward her friend’s cancer fund. The show at this point was in the working stages from the move from Berkeley to Broadway, and they were working kinks out and adjusting to the larger set and staging of the show. I was quite impressed with the changes in the choreography, the storyline, and the passion that I felt from the cast. Over the course of time from the first Preview to Opening Night, I saw the show three times (3/24; 3/27 and 4/7) and noticed that there were several changes and reworkings during that time until Opening Night and the MTV Special Viewing. (All together, between Berkeley and Broadway, I’ve seen the show seven times.)
Green Day, of course, was there that night, and it was a three-ring circus! Their wives and kids were in the audience and just before the curtain went up, Billie Joe’s bodyguard (a nice guy who I’ve spoken with a few times who does an excellent job of crowd control and protecting Billie Joe) brought him down to sit next to Adrienne. They were so damned cute together, too. I didn’t stare too much, being the nonchalant New Yorker that I am, ahem, but of course, a stare or two couldn’t be helped during the show. There was a palpable excitement and nervousness in the air as the audience, clearly in the show’s corner for an exciting time, was bouncing up and down in their seats in anticipation.
After the show, the circus continued outside. I’m not a fan of getting autographs or photos with famous people, so I just hung around outside until I could find the contingent of folks I had come to the show with. The sidewalk outside of the St. James was packed with people, and many folks had to stand in the street just to let people pass through. Of course, those of us standing in the street kept getting yelled at by cops and security to get out of the street. I would move along, put a foot on the sidewalk, and then head back into the street while people crowded the sidewalk.
Billie and Adrienne and Rebecca Running to Sardi's after the first preview. Photo by Green Day Mind.
American Idiot First Preview After Show Madhouse, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
Eventually, the cast started to roll out of the theater on their way back to Sardi’s for the preview after party. They were asked for autographs (you can see Stark Sands, “Tunny” being mobbed in the photograph below), and after it calmed down a bit more, probably 30 minutes or so after the show when some of the crowd had dispersed (but not by much), Tre kind of quietly walked out a side door to the restaurant first, followed later by Billie Joe, Adrienne, Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatsername), Mike and Mike’s wife, Brittany. My friends and I went down to Sardis and stood outside for a bit, watching Tre stand in the window of Sardi’s looking down at the crowd. Girls were screaming up a storm, and I’ve got a bad reputation for telling them to shut up (sorry, I just hate screaming girls or boys, my bad), so after awhile, I got tired of the spectacle and headed back down to the theater. Tony Vincent came out and we said hello to each other (we met at Berkeley and spoke online during the Berkeley run), and eventually, John Gallagher, Jr. came out of the theater, after most of the crowd had dispersed or were at Sardi’s. John knows me by name (probably because I drunkenly told him at Rockwood that he needed to bring more of the angst and also from talking with him at the Character Approved Awards a few months ago), so it kind of shocked me that he remembered my name.
John Gallagher, Jr. at Rockwood, 1/18/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
When I first saw the show at Berkeley, I wasn’t impressed with his performance, but then again, I had major issues at the time with the entire show. My biggest concern was that during the Berkeley run when I saw it, I didn’t see the seriousness of the material coming from him nor did I feel the depth of the character. I also say that off-Broadway runs and previews are the time for steeped criticism, particularly in regards to something one feels passionately about, and I’m a jaded theater person from back in the day. If everything is perfect at the beginning, there is no room for improvement. And shows and performances can always be improved. John steadily won me over, as I was pulling for him, particularly after I saw him perform his own material at his residency at Rockwood on the Lower East Side this past January. He’s a heartfelt kid, super-sweet, and a talented dude who obviously is in love with this show and the band. Watching him grow into the role of Johnny has been a pleasure and I give him all the kudos in the world for a brilliant and successful run. And I hope he gets a Tony nomination as well. American Idiot is one of the most bone-breaking shows I’ve seen on Broadway. These kids, led by Gallagher, throw themselves around that stage, and every night Gallagher leads the way. I’m sure it’s not easy.
My Wall Signature.
Once John went inside the restaurant, things got pretty tame outside of the St. James, but people were still bat-shit screaming in front of Sardi’s. The kids outside couldn’t get into the bar at Sardi’s, but since my friends and I are of age, we hung out in the bar at Sardi’s and talked with the bartender who has worked at Sardi’s for years, a real old skool New York character. Outside some of the kids were yelling up to the 2nd floor window asking that Billie make an appearance and show them his tattoos. He did, and then one girl screamed for him to sign her arm for a tattoo when he left the bar and he mimed that he would.
At some point during the night, I went upstairs to the bathroom, where the after party was taking place, and walked right into Brittany Dirnt. I didn’t say anything to her. Heck, what are you going to say to someone in the bathroom? When I walked out, Mike was on the phone near the bathroom and Gallagher was hanging out talking with people. I went back downstairs and chatted for a bit longer. I left at 12:30, but the others stayed until 1:00. I guess I should have stayed for another 1/2 hour, but I had to work the next day. From what I understand, the cast and eventually Billie Joe came out of the party and Billie Joe asked for a “fucking” cigarette. (Yes, he does smoke on occasion, get over it.) My friend who had taken me to the Preview was just about to put a cigarette in her mouth and instead, she gave it to him. Bonus! LOL. Oh, and he did sign the girl’s arm, too.
American Idiot Opening at the Irish Rogue. Photo by Michael Gary.
What can I say about Opening Night? By this time, I had seen the show three times in New York, and I was ready to just sit back and enjoy what was about to happen. The opening was a star-studded event, with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Michael J. Fox and Donald Fucking Trump… oh and a bunch of Idiots who are stars in my book. I didn’t see the Donald, and that was probably a good thing, but I did see the other three, and that was a good thing, too.
Green Day Bracelets in Front of the St. James, Opening Night. 4/20/10.
We Idiots met for dinner and a powwow at the Irish Rogue, having snacks and drinks. Carolyn had brought new Green Day Friendship bracelets to the theater, and she had an extra one and gave it to me. I already had one, but I took it anyway, in anticipation of seeing the show with Becky Walter (of the Facebook page Green Day LIVE on Tour) on 4/22/10. Becky was flying in from Minnesota to New York for the first time ever for the MTV Viewing on 4/22.
We walked down to the site as a group and got more excited as showtime came closer. Our seats were in the balcony and with the crowd, it took a bit of time to get up there. I wasn’t sitting with the Idiots from the restaurant, unfortunately, but I was anticipating meeting up with two special friends, Rachel and Michelle, who were sitting next to me. We three had shared some incredible moments out in Berkeley over the last few months, and Rachel was there to help manage the Mystic Knights of the Cobra tour that was starting the next day and Michelle is the spectacular photographer who took photographs of the Pinhead Gunpowder show back in February. She’s also the girlfriend of the bassist (Jim Graz) of Honah Lee, the accompanying band with the Cobras on their Party! Party! Party! Tour of the East Coast. The tour had been something I was hella looking forward to for months now, and I knew that when I saw them, that the REAL party was about to begin. More on that in a coming post.
The audience, if possible, was even MORE excited to see the show than on the first preview. Everyone was dressed to the nines and there were a few times when the audience shouted out lyrics to the songs with the cast, which was very exciting. I loved it.
After the show, we made our way downstairs and waited around for a little bit to say hello and goodbye to people. We were standing in the St. Jimmy Bar and as I was trying to walk into the area, my bag poked Ed Norton really hard in the ass. (Lucky bag.) He turned around and I apologized, and he smiled, and since I was looking hella good, he looked for a bit longer than usual. And I let him. Haha. And then I turned away and decided that the only thing I wanted to do was leave and hang out with Cobras and start the next phase of this wondrous opening week. So we hopped in a cab and went downtown.
The Real Party Begins. Hanging with the Cobras in the East Village, 4/20/10.
I did not go to the Opening Night Party, but the Green Day Community’s Katie McPansy Grogan won the American Idiot on Broadway Facebook contest. She had a fabulous time in NY, got to meet the band, interviewed Rebecca Naomi Jones, had excellent seats, and went to the After Party. I highly recommend visiting Katie’s Video Blogs of American Idiot on Broadway Opening.
A Shout Out to Nicole.
Lastly, a word of thanks to Nicole Gary. Nicole and I met on the Green Day Community and have been theater buddies in NYC since then. We were also in the Daily News photo shoot together back in March. She told me on opening night that she had attempted to get me a press pass for the After Opening Party festivities and had almost succeeded, but things didn’t work out. Thank you, Nicole, for believing in me and my blog, and for being a good buddy. I appreciate your friendship.
MTV Special Viewing, 4/22/10
J’net (an awesome moderator at the Green Day Community, thank you!) had bought us tickets to the 4/22/10 showing when tickets first went on sale. At the time, tickets weren’t on sale for Opening Night, so 4/22 was the next best thing going at the time (and it proved to be pretty amazing). I was hoping for something weird and special, as I had heard that weird and special things might happen on this night, so I was in weird and special mode. When tickets went on sale on 4/1/10 for Opening Night, I regretted my decision a bit to attend this performance. The Cobras and Honah Lee had played the night before at Arlene’s Grocery, and they were off to Asbury Park for a show at Asbury Lanes. Truthfully, I wanted to be with them as I don’t get to see them very often. But, we make our choices and I had to work on Friday anyway, and ok, shoot me, since all in all, I’ve been way lucky and it’s all good.
Minnesota Gal in NYC. Becky of Green Day LIVE on Tour Comes to NYC.
Things always work out best for those who love the Lushie Gods. Becky Walter, a friend of Niki Lee’s (Seize the Green Day), had won tickets to the MTV Special Viewing but was a bit panicked about making her first major trek from a small town in Minnesota to New York City. I had seats in the Mezzanine that night, but I told her that I would help her navigate through Manhattan and she gave me her second ticket. Niki, Dorie and I talked her through it and encouraged her to take the bull by the horns and conquer her fear of coming to NYC by herself. After all, we don’t bite… hard… here. We told her it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and she really wanted to come see the show, and having free tickets was half the battle since the ticket prices can be high. She flew in the day of the show, walked to my work to pick me up so that we could navigate down to the difficult to find Pop2Life offices for the tickets, and then whizzed uptown to meet folks at the Westway Diner for dinner. We proceeded to the venue a bit later and I gave her the Green Day Friendship bracelet that Carolyn had given me the day before. Our tickets were in the left Orchestra, not far from were I sat on the night of the first preview. Also, by Becky giving me the ticket, Andres from the Green Day Community was then able to share this special night with everyone by taking my original Mezzanine seat with J’net, Dawn, and Sherri. The Lushie Gods are good!
As the show was about to begin, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool family members walked in and filled the seats in the Center Orchestra. Billie Joe’s mom is the cutest thing ever, and she was beaming from ear to ear. Adrienne walked in with her and sat about two rows from us. As the curtain bells were ringing, The Edge from U2 entered and sat in the Center Orchestra not far from us, followed by Tre, Mike and Brittany, and finally, Billie Joe, who sat in the aisle seat next to Adrienne. Needless to say he caused a stir when he came in, but then the lights went down and the curtain went up.
Is this thing on? Green Day sings during American Idiot on Broadway. Photo by Green Day Mind.
It was kinda funny looking at him as an audience member. He was mesmerized by the show and his mouth was kinda hanging open in amazement the entire time, but something kept distracting him and he ran out of the theater twice during the performance, but came back in. Just as the show was ending, Green Day left the theater and a stage tech brought two mikes onstage. Afterward, the band took their rightful places onstage with their kids, the cast of American Idiot. Billie Joe had some issues with his guitar set-up for a minute, but they worked it out and he noted that it was “his first time on Broadway.” The crowd stood up as they came on and were treated to the “real” version of “American Idiot” and a great rendition of “Basket Case.” The month-long ride from Preview to Opening was complete, and this new baby called American Idiot was on Broadway.
Y’know what… I missed seeing them onstage
Green Day sings on Broadway, 4/22/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
Green Day sings on Broadway During American Idiot, 4/22/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.
All in all, it has been a great ride with American Idiot, and I’m glad that the show is up and running and is good. It’s gotten exceptional reviews for the most part, and ticket sales are good. It’s fucking up Broadway, and in my book, that is always a good thing. I’ll write up something one day with my thoughts on the actual production, but really, just go and see it and make up your own mind is all that I can ultimately say.
I will say, though, that seeing Green Day back onstage made me realize how much I just wanted to see them perform again. The cast is great and the score is wonderful and kudos to everyone involved in the show, but Green Day is… well… Green Day. I silently offered supplications after the MTV Special Viewing, “please let the Foxboro Hot Tubs play a show this weekend, please let me get to see it.” Cause you know what? There is nothing like Billie Joe, Mike and Tre onstage together. And luckily, the Lushie Saints granted my wish. Twice. More on that in a later post.
And with that, faire thee well, American Idiot on Broadway. May you have a long life and prosper, may your actors stay healthy with no broken bones, and may you always Fuck Up Broadway.
After the break, stay tuned for ToniAnn and Fallyn on MTV being interviewed about the show and some additional links.
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…
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.
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
While I wonder what’s happening tonight at Green Day’s show in Phoenix, where free tickets are being distributed to hardcore fans at the Idiot Club for a special taping for the tour’s sponsor, Verizon, my thoughts turn toward next month’s upcoming musical opening at the Berkeley Repertory Company. (I’m also hoping that when they say it’s for Verizon that I will not have to regret the only thing about my having an iPhone… and that’s AT&T… because non-Verizon customers won’t be able to see it. Blech.)
Via my Google News subscription, I got a notice saying that Rollingstone.com’s “Rock and Roll Daily” had posted an online dossier of the cast of Green Day’s American Idiot, including a few Youtube highlights with the likes of the Spring Awakening cast and a fine turn of tune with Queen by Tony Vincent as the late, great, Freddie Mercury (may he rest in peace).
Check them out:
Spring Awakening Cast featuring John Gallagher appearing on Late Night with David Letterman
Queen with Tony Vincent and the Cast of We Will Rock You, singing for the Queen’s Jubilee at Buckingham Palace
From Mass Hysteria at the GDC, comes links to the Berkeley Repertory Company’s Blog that has been giving periodical updates on the show’s progression. You’ll also get updates on the other shows that are happening for the 2009-2010 Berkeley Rep season as well. It’s a great theater and lots of amazing performances have come out of the premiere theater on the West Coast for ground-breaking performance presentations.
American Idiot is going to be quite the challenge to bring to life, but from the cast profiles and the strength of the director and the band, I can’t wait to see it.