'Green Day's American Idiot' embraced by new generation

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

Baby boomers wax nostalgic over “Hair.”

Gen Xers embraced “Rent.”

For millenials, “Green Day's American Idiot” may be their musical.

The show, which received two 2010 Tony Awards plus a nomination for best musical, will play Tuesday through Feb. 24 at Heinz Hall, Downtown, as a non-subscriber presentation of PNC Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh.

Like “The Who's Tommy” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the inspiration for and heart of the show is its score that began as “American Idiot,” a concept album created by the raucous punk rock band Green Day with lyrics by its lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong.

“This is completely different from anything I've done before,” says Trent Saunders, a recent University of Miami graduate with a degree in musical theater, who plays the dark, god-like punk character, St. Jimmy.

“They say punk rock is all about breaking out of the box and doing something completely different. As Billie Joe says, punk is all about becoming your own person, doing something new for the (hell) of it.”

The storyline, written by Armstrong and Michael Mayer, should be reassuringly familiar to fans of traditional musical theater.

It follows three young men who attempt to break free of their unrewarding suburban lives.

Johnny descends into sex and drugs. Tunny is sent to fight in Iraq. Will finds himself ensnared by marriage.

“The story connects to everyone,” Saunders ays. “It's a coming-of-age story but with a different flare. It's more honest in themes that have to do with this age. It's something I connect with.”

The music should be familiar to the legions of Green Day fans who bought the 2004 album and more casual listeners who only know their songs, such as “American Idiot,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” from the radio.

The songs are woven into the 90-minute musical in the same order as the album, though Tom Kitt has given them new arrangements and orchestrations for the musical.

As in traditional musicals, the songs help to tell the story, propel it forward and explain characters' thoughts and emotions.

But the score still has its feet planted firmly in punk rock.

For many, Saunders says, “the first reaction will be ‘Wow! That was loud.' It takes some getting used to. But my grandparents (who are in their 80s) came to see it, and by the end, they loved it.”

Choreographer Steven Hoggett also breaks with tradition in moving the cast through the musical and around the stage.

Hoggett, an advocate for physical theater, didn't train as a dancer or choreographer and thinks of himself as a movement director.

“I approached (the musical) with the idea that Green Day's sound does not warrant choreography. The songs are about energy,” he says.

Although he has worked on recent Broadway productions that include “Once” and “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Hoggett was not interested in creating kick lines or time steps.

“I felt safe in saying to the cast, I'm not doing a type of archetypical Britney Spears (or) Beyonce choreography. I'm going to teach you to move on stage. I'm going to come up with a vernacular to communicate ideas,” Hoggett says.

“His choreography is visceral and completely funk soul,” Saunders says. “Hoggett has put together movements (that are) pure and so brilliant. It's an ensemble piece that supports the story.”

The result, Saunders says, is a musical that should be widely enjoyed.

“What's so great is that it brings together two not-so-similar groups: Green Day fans, who love everything this stands for, and musical theater fans. It lets them experience new things.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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