“American Idiot” is no longer just the name of Green Day’s Grammy-award-winning album. Green Day’s leading man Billie Joe Armstrong and a Broadway team including director Michael Mayer created a Broadway musical set to the band’s music. Think “Mamma Mia” but with a much darker plot, and replace ABBA’s pop songs with Green Day’s angst-ridden rock anthems. The punk-rock opera is coming to Bass Concert Hall this week.
With little dialogue, most of the plot is told through the production’s musical numbers. “American Idiot” is centered on a character named Johnny and his group of friends as they struggle to live their day-to-day lives in middle America.
“American Idiot”’s relatable plot, paired with its modern yet nostalgic music, creates a show that seems to be tailored to college-aged audiences.
“We are always trying to get new productions in here, not the same old stuff,” said Gene Bartholomew, assistant director of communications and Broadway operations for Texas Performing Arts. “We are trying to appeal to a range of demographics, i.e. ‘American Idiot,’ which is obviously going to perform to a younger demographic that may not have been exposed to Broadway.”
Bartholomew said Broadway tours can expose college students to a different form of entertainment that may not be as easily available elsewhere, and part of having a well-rounded education involves experiencing things like Broadway shows, classical shows and even punk-rock shows.
Broadway actor Daniel C. Jackson plays St. Jimmy, the drug-addict alter-ego of lead character Johnny. He says he uses personal experiences to understand and relate to the production’s characters and plot.
“It’s about the choices you make and the consequences that come with them — not necessarily the happy ending that follows you deciding to make a big decision,” Jackson said.
Even though he was always a Green Day fan, Jackson was skeptical about “American Idiot” when he first saw the show on Broadway, but, by the end of the performance, he was calling his agent to request an audition.
“I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with a Green Day musical because I’m not a huge fan of adaptations,” Jackson said “I’m one of those snobs that thinks everything should be original and new. That’s an unrealistic desire. I went and saw it in previews and was blown away.”
It took Jackson a couple of years to make the cast, but when auditions for the national tour came, he was cast in the ensemble and then worked his way up to the part of St. Jimmy — the role Armstrong occasionally played in the original Broadway production.
“Being in the ensemble is definitely more of a fulfilling thing,” Jackson said. “The head banging is very visceral. You’re able to put your own problems into the show and leave them on out on the floor. St. Jimmy is more calculated and a little bit darker. It comes from a different place. It’s a little lonelier.”
It was the middle-American stories that sold Jackson on “American Idiot,” as he grew up in a town with situations and people similar to the ones portrayed in the musical.
“When I was growing up I was into a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have been,” Jackson said. “A lot of it is reminiscent and parallels the story, not on as dramatic or theatrical of a level, but kids getting into stuff and making bad decisions.”
With 62 stops in the United States and Canada, including the one in Austin, Jackson is trying to keep each performance as fresh as possible.
“I think about a lot of the people I went to school with and grew up with and think about if things had been different,” Jackson said. “I could probably imagine that they would be St. Jimmys themselves or Johnnys.”