A far cry from the sexual coming-of-age and teen-angst tale that was Spring Awakening, for which Mayer won the Tony Award for Best Direction, American Idiot — a narrative expansion of the album — is about a young man named Johnny (played by Spring Awakening's Tony-winning John Gallagher, Jr.), who journeys from the soulless suburbs in search of something greater, all in the post-9/11 age of media-saturation, fear and cynicism. His two pals, Will (played by Michael Esper) and Tunny (played by Tony nominee Stark Sands), take their own paths.
Johnny is also known as Jesus of Suburbia, a name familiar to fans of the 2004 Grammy Award-winning source album, a punk rock hit that has sold more than 12 million copies.
Here's how the producers describe the experience: "American Idiot follows the 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 Day's electrifying score."
[AUDIO-RIGHT] The 90-minute rock musical draws on all the songs from "American Idiot," plus material that did not make the album, plus a handful of numbers from Green Day's latest Grammy-winning album, "21st Century Breakdown" (including the song "21 Guns").
During previews, a full-company encore of the Green Day hit "Time of Your Life" was added, with the entire troupe playing guitars; that song was not performed in early Broadway previews, but was presented in the tryout run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last fall. The book of the musical is by Green Day frontman and lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong and Mayer himself. Music and lyrics are by Green Day. The name of the band was inspired by marijuana culture, and the opening date is also a sly reference to pot — 420 is slang for marijuana use.
Armstrong said he was so impressed by how Mayer helped shaped the production of Spring Awakening that he gave the director permission to construct a wider scenario and create additional characters for American Idiot, the musical. Green Day comprises vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool.
Armstrong, at a March public event that unveiled the opening title number to fans and media, said this of the album: "The thought was always sort of that it would be staged or we'd create a film or something…we were thinking in terms that it kind of felt like scoring a movie or something."
He admitted that he and the band drew from narrative influences to create the album. "We got really into different kind of things," he said. "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…"
Tom Hulce and Ira Pittelman are the lead producers of American Idiot.
The principal cast of American Idiot also includes Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange) as Whatshername, Christina Sajous (The Wild Party) as The Extraordinary Girl, Mary Faber (Avenue Q) as Heather and Tony Vincent (Jesus Christ Superstar) as St. Jimmy, with Declan Bennett (Rent), Andrew Call (Cry-Baby), Gerard Canonico (Spring Awakening), Miguel Cervantes (Spelling Bee), Joshua Henry (In the Heights), Van Hughes (Hairspray), Brian Charles Johnson (Spring Awakening), Joshua Kobak (Rent), Lorin Latarro (Movin' Out), Omar Lopez-Cepero (North American tour of Evita), Leslie McDonel (Hairspray), Chase Peacock (High School Musical), Theo Stockman (Hair), Ben Thompson (Cyrano with Placido Domingo), Alysha Umphress (bare), Aspen Vincent (Dirty Dancing) and Libby Winters (White Noise).
Following the California run, much of that cast continues with the Broadway transfer. Sands, who recently played Clyde in the Frank Wildhorn musical Bonnie and Clyde at La Jolla Playhouse, is a notable newcomer to the project.
Explaining his character, Gallagher told Playbill.com, "Johnny is in his mid-20s, and he's just at that age where it's starting to dawn on him that it’s starting to feel rather pathetic that he hasn't done more with his life. He's kind of a — somewhat of a loner, hangs out with his two friends and listens to a lot of punk rock music, and comes from a broken home and, I think, feels very disillusioned and alone and feels like his generation got slightly gypped somehow. He finally wakes up one day and realizes that he holds all the power to make his future and decides to go off on, for lack of a better word, his own personal journey to find himself."
Hope fuels most musicals. Is there a sense of hope in the anger-spiked, drug-injected American Idiot?
"Absolutely," Gallagher said. "I think there's hope just in anyone trying to get closer to what they believe and what they want and what they need and what they feel that their community needs or their generation needs. You know, there are some dark twists in the show, but ultimately, I really do think there is a lot of positivity, and like I said, for every dark place that these characters go, they go to some pretty bright ones at the same time."
The show features scenic design by Tony nominee Christine Jones (Spring Awakening), costume design by Baryshnikov fellow Andrea Lauer (The Butcher of Baraboo), lighting design by two-time Tony winner Kevin Adams (Hair), sound design by Obie Award winner Brian Ronan (Cabaret), as well as video design by Darrel Maloney. The music director is Carmel Dean.
The show is produced on Broadway in association with Berkeley Repertory Theatre.