Punk rock and Broadway. The two go together like peanut butter and rattlesnakes, which is to say, they really don't. Or at least that's what most people thought until American Idiot took over the St. James Theater in New York City on April 20, 2010.
Now, two Tony Awards and a Grammy later, people are starting to rethink that whole no-punk-on-Broadway thing.
But of all the bands out there, how did Green Day end up with a musical?
It was actually more of a natural transition than most people think. Green Day's 2004 album, American Idiot — which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide — is pretty theatrical in nature. It's an ambitious concept album with a narrative and recurring characters.
"The great thing about American Idiot is when it first came out, Billy Joe [Armstrong] and the band always sort of intended it to be a film or a stage show," says Evan Jay Newman, the show's music director. "There are very clear scenes and motifs throughout the original album. When Michael Mayer, our director, heard American Idiot, he started listening to it over and over again and thinking, 'You know what? We could really do something with this onstage.' "
After approaching band members and getting them onboard — and months and months of the gritty work that goes into actually making a musical — the stage show was born.
The musical takes place in the recent past, a post-9/11 America left grappling with the very real paranoia and fear that came after the national tragedy. It follows the story of three lifelong friends — Johnny, Will, and Tunny — as they try to escape the numbness of suburbia, battling love, war, and addiction along the way.
The show is loud, brash, and — for a musical — pretty punk.
Now, that loud, brash, punk production has made its way to a decidedly quiet, tame, and unpunk environment: the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, where patrons tend to be from the generation that associates an American idiot with Richard Nixon rather than George Bush.
But Newman isn't worried. He thinks the typically older Broward crowd will have no problem getting into the show.
"People should know what they're walking into," he says. "It is a punk-rock show. It's not your Oklahoma! But we've had audiences of all ages, and we've had people who are very loyal to the show who are not necessarily teens or in their 20s that tend to really love it. The themes are very universal."
Indeed, the transitional angst of the young is a theme that has found success in many previous Broadway hits. But if we don't have to worry about the traditional theater crowd, what about the younger, edgier fans who actually bought Green Day's albums. How do they feel about the show?
"We've gotten great support from the Green Day fan community," says Newman, an avid fan himself. "A lot of them come to the show and they've never actually seen a musical before, and that's always fun for us. One, because we get that energy of a rock crowd out in the audience, and two, because a lot of them will come up to us afterwards and say, 'I've never been to a musical before, and now I'm going to go see another one.' "
American Idiot set out to bridge that gap between punk and theater, between Green Day fans and Les Miserables fans, between old and young, between peanut butter and rattlesnakes.
And — now on the musical's third national tour — it's safe to say it's accomplished the goal.
Bonus: Theatergoers can take their ticket stubs down the street to America's Backyard or Stache where, upon showing the ticket, they'll get in for free and receive one free drink each.