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American Idiot: The Creation of a Rock Musical

American Idiot
Jenna Rubaii (The Extraordinary Girl) and Thomas Hettrick (Tunny) in AMERICAN IDIOT (Photo by John Daughtry)

AMERICAN IDIOT, the rock musical scheduled to debut at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts February 1-3, 2013, is a one-act, sung-through musical adaptation of the Green Day concept album of the same name. The show follows the journey of three childhood friends who search for their identity and voice through the music of punk rock. The show described by producers as, “an exhilarating journey of a new generation of young Americans as they struggle to find meaning in a post 9/11 world, borne along by Green Days’s electrifying score,” debuted at the Berkley Repertory Theatre from September through November of 2009. AMERICAN IDIOT would eventually open in Broadway on April 20, 2010, for a total of 422 performances. Although Green Day did not appear as a group in the stage adaptation, Green Day vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong somtimes performed as the role of “St. Jimmy.”

How did the multi-platinum rock album, American Idiot, transform itself into a Broadway-approved rock musical seen by hundreds of thousands? Armstrong was impressed with Broadway director, Michael Mayer’s work on the controversial Broadway musical “Spring Awakening,” for which he won a Tony Award in 2010. (“Spring Awakening” debuted at The Hanover Theatre on May 10, 2011). Mayer’s experience with rock musicals led to the collaboration with Armstrong on the musical’s book. Armstrong gave Mayer the artistic freedom to add additional characters and expand the scope of the plot of AMERICAN IDIOT.

Mayer discussed the origins of the musical adaptation of AMERICAN IDIOT with Paul Hodgins in a March 2012 interview with The Orange County Register. He said, “As I was listening to it (the “American Idiot” album) more and more and looking forward to starting at the point where I had left off the last time, it occurred to me that the pleasure I was getting was very reminiscent of the feeling I had as a kid listening to the original Broadway cast album of “West Side Story” or “Carousel” or “On a Clear Day”…I started to imagine what kind of story could (emanate) from these songs. I could see something about kids leaving the suburbs and going to the city, someone messing up and hitting rock bottom before coming back to himself again. It had some resonance for me; it started to feel like a dramatic story.”

Of the numerous musicals and narratives that influenced his work, Armstrong said, “We got really into different kind of things. We got a lot of stuff from “Tommy,” we got into “Rocky Horror,” we got into listening to different things like … “West Side Story.” I think I even downloaded some things that Ethel Merman sang or something. It was, like, a totally different approach. …And now coming into this and seeing the energy that all the actors and everybody else has been involved with — it kind of reminds me of the first times that we ever really got into being around creative people in the punk rock scene…”

AMERICAN IDIOT garnered much respect from the Broadway scene. Charles Isherwood, theatre reviewer of The New York Times, praised the show by writing, “A pulsating portrait of wasted youth that invokes all the standard genre conventions — bring on the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, please! — only to transcend them through the power of its music and the artistry of its execution, the show is as invigorating and ultimately as moving as anything I’ve seen on Broadway this season. Or maybe for a few seasons past.”

AMERICAN IDIOT was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Music in 2010. The tour walked away with two Tony Awards for scenic and lightning design. The show also won a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 2010.

Click the arrows below to hear some of the tracks from the Grammy-award winning album.

American Idiot

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

21 Guns

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)


Wake Me Up When September Ends

*Although most of us can relate to the teenage-angst filled themes that drive this rock musical, it contains strong language/mature subject matter and is not recommended for anyone under 14 years of age. Parents, only you know the maturity level of your child so please be aware of the parental advisory.