Taking a work of music that rails against the suburban middle class and adapting it to the quintessential middle class genre, the Broadway musical, may seem bizarre. It did to Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. “My fear,” he says in the documentary Broadway Idiot, which chronicles the adaptation of Green Day’s American Idiot to Broadway, “was that it was just going to be sort of absurd, not relatable and corny.”
But for Michael Mayer, Tony Award winning director of Spring Awakening, adapting Green Day’s American Idiot to the stage held the promise of resurrecting Broadway’s roots as the place where storytelling and popular music intersect. “When rock and roll happened,” Mayer told me, “Broadway music became sort of ghetto-ized, it became ersatz music a little bit. It didn’t speak on its own to a larger audience the way Gershwin’s or Cole Porter’s music did back in the golden days of Tin Pan Alley.”
As chronicled in a new documentary by Doug Hamilton, Mayer convinced Green Day to adapt their album to the stage. Though skeptical at first, Armstrong became enthralled by musical theater as an artistic genre and as a community. He was a world-famous rock star completely out of his element. And he loved it. By the end of the process, Armstrong had a leading role in the Broadway production.
What made Broadway so attractive to this punk rocker at the top of his game? And what lessons can we draw from his experience?
Be punk about your career. According to Hamilton, the source of Armstrong’s transformation was his punk spirit. “Billie is anti-establishment and he believes you’ve got to crash through barriers to do something new,” he told me. “At the beginning of this process, he exhibited that by turning his baby over to Michael [Mayer] in a way that was extraordinarily generous. But then something else happened on top of that and that was his own willingness to become something different. Ultimately,” he added, “that was the story that I was interested in because it’s a more universal story than making a Broadway show. It’s really about an artist at a very high level who is willing to try something totally new and take the risks in order to do that.”
It takes courage to try something new, especially when it’s something that is outside of what is valued in your own community. Doing a musical exposed Green Day to ridicule from their punk peers. But they did it anyway. I too made a punk move in my career when I left a comfortable tenure-track position as a professor of entrepreneurship to write about rock n’ roll. I knew that some people would view it as a step down. Being punk about your career means doing something that you’re passionate, or at least curious about, even if it exposes you to criticism.
Put yourself in a position where you feel safe to make mistakes. Once people become experts in something, they tend to become risk averse. Green Day had already proven their willingness to take risks when they made American Idiot, a political album with operatic scope that was a significant deviation from the bratty punk anthems of their early days. But moving to a different genre altogether upped the ante on the likelihood of messing up. Mistakes were not just likely, they were inevitable.
Full article at Forbes: HERE