American Idiot – Green Day's great blend of theatre and punk rock

by LIZA MITCHELL
The distance from punk rock to Broadway is not as great as one might think. The musical production “American Idiot,” based on the 2004 concept album by Green Day, bridges the gap in a unique, thought-provoking way, by blending politics and youthful rebellion with the majesty of musical theatre.
The show is directed by Michael Mayer and choreographed by Olivier Award-winner Steven Hoggett, with orchestrations and arrangements by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Kitt. Winner of two Tony Awards, “American Idiot” is the story of three boyhood friends, each searching for meaning in a post 9/11 world.
In the role of Extraordinary Girl, cast-member Jenna Rubaii has a bird’s eye view of the Mohawked and tattooed mingling among the more stereotypical theater patrons. It is an interesting dichotomy in that neither side is quite sure about the other, but both sides agree that “American Idiot” addresses the revelations we all face in a clear voice that everyone can hear.
“I think that ‘American Idiot’ is unique in the sense that it is a great blend of theatre and punk rock. We have a lot of the hardcore Green Day fans coming and a lot of the musical theatre people coming that aren’t really used to that kind of music and vice versa,” she says. “I think it’s a really special show and anyone who gets to see it will really appreciate it. It’s gorgeous and a spectacle of a show, but it also has a lot of meaning and heart to it.”
Rubaii serves as a nurse to the character Tunny, played by Thomas Hettrick, when he goes off to war. “He hallucinates about me, and we have this aerial ballet of sorts. That’s when we sing ‘Extraordinary Girl.’ Later we end up together,” she says. The musical features the hits ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams,’ ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends,’ ‘Holiday’ and the title track ‘American Idiot’ from the Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum album. Also included in the score are several songs from Green Day’s 2009 release, 21st Century Breakdown, including ‘21 Guns’ and an unreleased love song, ‘When It’s Time.’
A lifelong performer, Rubaii was a member of a Tampa-based song and dance group called the Entertainment Revue from age six to 18 and recently graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Music degree in Musical Theatre.
Her joining the production was the result of good fortune and obvious talent. One of her instructors was an intern for Jim Carnahan, who cast the show. The entire junior class auditioned for a coveted spot but only a select few were called back and continued on to New York for further auditions.
Rubaii was one of the lucky ones, landing a role alongside fellow classmate Trent Saunders, who was cast as St. Jimmy. “We were in class together, so it is pretty fun to be on tour with someone who you know from college,” she says.
“American Idiot” tells the story of a group of young people struggling to find their place in the world. It also deals with mature subject matters like drug abuse and sex and is not intended for younger audiences. “Everyone is trying to figure out what they want in life, and that is obviously relatable to everyone,” Rubaii says. “There is also the struggle of getting out of a place where you don’t want to be. For the boys, it’s their hometown. They want something bigger and better. That’s why I think that the show is so special, because it is relatable on so many levels.”
Everyone responds to tragedy in their own way and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong filtered his post 9/11 emotion into writing the rock opera, “American Idiot.” The lyrics in the title track suggest a disdain of the media-saturated culture cashing in on public fear and the “redneck agenda” that regurgitates propaganda and paranoia. “Don’t want to be an American idiot. One nation controlled by the media. Information age of hysteria. It’s calling out to idiot America.”
“Billie Joe [Armstrong] has an amazing way with lyrics. He has strong opinions about what is going on in the world, and he knows how to put that into words that make sense to everyone,” Rubaii says. “He is also an amazing musician. [Green Day] has had success for decades now, so I think it is a blend of the content and the lyrics that make them so popular.”
Rubaii says there will be a day when “American Idiot” will be considered a period piece that offers a snapshot of our country’s history similar to the legacy of “Rent.” “It’s pretty timeless, especially in this day and age. Ever since 9/11 happened, we are still dealing with the repercussions of that. Obviously, we have a lot of the same issues still going on,” she says. “It’s such a special show, and I’m super grateful to be a part of it. We all really relate to the story and love to share it.”
The Artist Series presents the smash hit musical for two nights, May 14 and 15, in the Moran Theater at the Times-Union Center for Performing Arts, 300 W. Water Street. Tickets start at $27 and are available at www.artistseriesjax.org or by calling 442-BWAY (2929).

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april, 2022

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