American Idiot at the Orpheum: How Punk Actually Took Broadway By Storm

By John Townsend February 16, 2012

Categories: Arts & Culture, Featured - Home Page, Our Scene

Van Hughes (Johnny), Joshua Kobak (St. Jimmy) and the company of AMERICAN IDIOT. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

It’s no big deal anymore to think of a pop or rock musical becoming a Broadway hit. But punk? Well that’s just what happened with the sensationally successful 2004 Grammy-winning Green Day album, sometimes referred to as a punk opera album. It was adapted into a 2010 Best Musical Tony-nominee, is one of the best reviewed musicals of recent years, and has been developing a cult following. The Orpheum is hosting its Broadway tour.

Gabrielle McClinton (Whatserame) and Van Hughes (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

American Idiot, a tale of disenchanted youth, captures the zeitgeist of the times in a way that we might compare to West Side Story a half century ago, Hair in the Vietnam Era, and Rent a generation ago with its daring depiction of the after effects of trickle-down Reaganomics. So theater snobs who pooh pooh the punk will have to face the possibility that American Idiot also contains a truth that’s just as legitimate as their favorite musical of tormented youth. And odds are they’ll be won over.

Jake Epstein (Will) in AMERICAN IDIOT. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

To ensure that the adaptation from album to stage would be successful, Tom Kitt was brought on board to create the musical arrangements. A daunting task given the wild popularity of  Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool’s music and Armstrong’s lyrics.

Front from left, Leslie McDonel, Gabrielle McClinton (Whatsername) and Krystina Alabado. Back from left, Talia Aaron, Nicci Claspell and Jillian Mueller in AMERICAN IDIOT. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

But Pulitzer and Tony-winner Kitt (Next to Normal) is also attuned to the time and is known for testing the limits. He is after all the man who also composed High Fidelity and arranged Debbie Does Dallas, the Musical. He says “the biggest challenge I faced in adapting American Idiot for the stage revolved around my ability to apply new arrangements and layers to the score without compromising the beauty and brilliance of this iconic masterpiece. I knew that in order to incorporate a cast of 19 performers and a newly fleshed out story, there would need to be some new arrangements in support of the storytelling. In going about this task, I had to make sure the score was protected so that even if a moment contained a new orchestration or vocal arrangement, the composition’s sound and visceral energy was still undeniably Green Day. ”

American Idiot
Feb. 21-26
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
(800) 982-2787
www.hennepintheatretrust.org

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