Green Day's Broadway hit "American Idiot," descendant of its landmark album of the same name, boasts a distinguished lineage, both musical and theatrical.
The first national tour, opening Friday at the Peabody Opera House, exerts obvious appeal for the 20-something crowd. They've already embraced the 2004 album as a personal soundtrack, dense with memorable songs ("Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Holiday," the title song, etc.) and post-9/11 angst.
But other theatergoers might be surprised to discover its connections to other shows they know and cherish: rock musicals like "Hair," "Rent" and "Spring Awakening."
A punk band from Berkeley, Calif., Green Day made its smudgy mark long before it released "American Idiot," reaching an especially wide audience with its 1997 acoustic hit "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." But as "American Idiot" surfed the zeitgeist, it reached unexpected listeners — like Tony-winner Michael Mayer.
The director of "Side Man," "A View from the Bridge," "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and, later, "Spring Awakening," Mayer "listened to the album nonstop," said Tom Kitt, the show's music director, orchestrator and arranger. "Michael had the idea (for the musical). It dawned on him that this visceral piece of work was, in fact, stageable."
For the transition, Green Day and Mayer enlisted composer Kitt, an artist made to measure for the job. He and lyricist Brian Yorkey won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for "Next To Normal," their rock musical about mental illness. Two of Kitt's other musicals will play here this spring: "High Fidelity" at New Line and the new "Bring It On" at the Fox.
Kitt said: "I guess they called on me because I speak both languages: Broadway and rock."
Kitt said there's a world of difference between songs performed by the three men of Green Day and the same songs performed by 19 men and women.
"I was basically in charge of adapting the album for the theater," he explained. "I tried to say, 'How does this work? Do I keep it just the way it is? Do I strip it down? Do I add a layer?'
—"'American Idiot' is an iconic album, and I didn't want to mess it up. I wanted to make sure that I served the band — that their vision was intact."
Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day's lead singer, guitarist and lyricist, and Mayer fleshed out the album to create a sung-though story of three disaffected young men, engulfed by consumer culture and a mistrust of authority.
On the brink of adulthood, the friends take different paths. Tunny enlists, goes to war and is wounded. Will stays home with his pregnant girlfriend, only to drift into depression. Johnny — the "Jesus of Suburbia" about whom Armstrong sings on the rock-opera album "American Idiot" — heads off to big-city adventures liberally laced with sex and drugs, urged on by a thrill-seeking character called St. Jimmy. By the end, all three are back at home, mulling "the times of their lives."
Armstrong, who occasionally played St. Jimmy in New York, has acknowledged Green Day's debt to other concept rock albums — particularly The Who's "Tommy," which also made a triumphant transition to the stage. Kitt finds the connection irresistible.
—"'American Idiot' is kind of a throwback, coming out of albums like 'Tommy' and 'Sgt. Pepper,'" he said. "There's a line you are following, and it's very exciting. And like them, 'American Idiot' is a commentary on its times, channeling the politics and culture of the new millennium.
"When music like that comes out, it makes you feel like it's something that had to happen — and something that had to happen exactly when it did."
When 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday • Where Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street • How much $22-$92 • More info peabodyoperahouse.com
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