At Playbill's invitation, Mayer, who won his Best Direction Tony for Spring Awakening, sat down with collaborator Armstrong (they share book credit on the musical American Idiot) to talk about the 2004 source album and its rebirth as a Broadway rock musical.
Will Armstrong write another musical? Read on — and listen, too. We've got exclusive audio outtakes and extras.
MICHAEL MAYER: Why did you make the record "American Idiot"?
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: I think it was maybe a combination of some kind of artistic statement and also [a reflection of] what was happening at that time.
MM: This was during the beginning of the Iraq War?
BJA: Yeah — 2002–2003. Watching the tanks going in and the journalists embedded, it was like reality television was meeting war.
MM: What was it about rock opera that felt right as a vehicle for channeling that moment?
BJA: I've always liked songs that told stories (like "Tommy" or "Sergeant Pepper"). I think to use a rock opera sounded more appealing, and it was something I felt like I had the chops to do.
MM: When you first made the album, did you visualize it happening on a stage?
BJA: Yeah! I visualized the characters in my head, and starting thinking, "Wow, this could totally be staged...it could be something."
MM: What was your first reaction when I first approached you about making this show?
I never hesitated for a second. I always have this thing: "Go where the music takes you," and that's where I felt like the music was taking us.
MM: "American Idiot" [the album] is the story of one man's journey to find himself and…return home a little older and a lot wiser. When I suggested opening the story up and adding the characters Will and Tunny, did you have an image as to who these guys might be?
BJA: When you trust someone, the way I trust you, sometimes the best thing to do is to stay out of the way. In a lot of ways every character up there reminds me of myself. Whether it's Tunny, who is somehow naive but also a very physical character, or Johnny, who is sort of disillusioned, but is trying to find his place in the world. Or if it's the guy sitting on the couch, Will. He brings me back to the first video [Green Day] ever did, for "Longview," with stabbing the couch….