The tragedies that occurred on 9/11 shook the world to its core and the fallout inspired the need for change on a global scale. Punk rock pioneers Green Day channeled the uncertainties of the post-9/11 era into the bold, daring rock opera American Idiot that proved there is still nothing more rock ‘n roll than rebellion.
Released in 2004, American Idiot fused the rock concept arrangement of The Who’s Tommy with the musical theater format of Jesus Christ, Superstar. This cultural cross pollination birthed the hit Broadway musical of the same name that bridged the gap between politics and youthful rebellion and the majesty of Broadway.
American Idiot opens tomorrow at Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach. Founded on the principles of creative risk taking, Players by the Sea has a history of staging material that inspires dialogue and highlights the mysteries of the human condition in an engaging, thought-provoking way. American Idiot explores these themes and offers a snapshot of our country’s history not unlike the legacy created by Rent with intersecting storylines and an energetic score.
“The political stance that Green Day took when they wrote the album I feel is still very relevant. The music is wonderful and the message is wonderful. I felt like this is the stage to do it on,” says Jocelyn Geronimo, director of American Idiot at PBTS. “I hear a lot of criticism about celebrities who take advantage of their platform and I totally disagree with that. I think because they have such a huge platform, they can reach even more people which made me even more enthusiastic about this show.”
American Idiot tells the story of three boyhood friends, each searching for meaning in a post 9/11 world. When Johnny, Tunny and Will flee the constraints of their hometown for the thrills of city life, their lives are quickly turned upside down when Tunny, played by Rodney Holmes, enters the armed forces. Will, played by Bryce Cofield, is called back home to address family responsibilities and Johnny, played by Lucas Kish, falls victim to a seductive love interest and a hazardous new friendship.
The cast also features Jimmy Alexander as St. Jimmy, Isabella Martinez as Whatshername, Meredith DaSilva as Heather and Jessica Alexander as Extraordinary Girl.
An ensemble of colorful characters including Andrew Sardoni, David Medina, Clayton Riddley, Brandon Hines, Jamil Abdur-Rahman, Catie Casey, Assata Davis, Jillian Poland, Haley Sweat, Maya Pinfield, Kylie Gilberto and Rachel Jones help bring the story to life.
Geronimo says PBTS has already experienced minor backlash on social media stemming from the use of a flag in the show’s publicity photos. The controversial photos were staged to represent the show’s content, not as a reflection of the theatre’s political views.
“Our pictures were very controversial. Absolutely. But they were purely for artistic reasons and to create that buzz of what we’re doing here. It’s art,” she says. “But I think that is also a factor in putting on a good show. It’s supposed to evoke emotion. And whether you believe it or not, it really opens people’s minds and hopefully, audiences can see it in a different light.”
Geronimo says the show pulls away from the politics and focuses more on the stories within the musical. As director, she forced the cast into tight, emotional spaces and compelled them to confront dark stains on the relationships between the characters. Because the rock musical has very little dialogue, Geronimo tapped into the intensity of the music to convey emotion.
“A lot of the directing is within the songs and the choreography. We did a lot of exercises like do you know who you are? Do you know where you’re going? Your best friend lost a leg and you’ve never dealt with that before, what would you do? You don’t know how to act. It’s like the pink elephant in the room,” she says. “There is a big age difference within the cast and some have never experienced someone close to them dying. You may have to take it to that level when you’re going through the movements. You do have to put yourself in a very dark place.”
When American Idiot opened at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009, it created an interesting dichotomy with Green Day fans mingling amongst the seasoned theatre patrons. Neither side knew quite what to make of the other. Armstrong says when he first saw a staging of the show that he was struck by the parallels of punk rockers and the musical theatre actors who were “completely, mind and body, involved in theatre just as much as I was involved in punk rock.”
“It’s not like we’re different people,” Geronimo says. “The music is different but they have the same connections. They have friends. They live the same way we all do. This show has something we can all relate to. Who hasn’t had a love lost? This is a military town. Who doesn’t know someone, high school buddies, guys who grew up together and hung out at the 7-11 and drank beer? Everyone can relate to it and I think that’s why there is such a wonderful connection with this cast.”
With the current political climate creating a deep chasm between party lines, Geronimo says she is hopeful that American Idiot will address the revelations we all face in a clear voice that audiences on both sides of the lines can hear. “There are so many new and modern things happening now in theatre that can bring in completely different audiences but all have the same reason for being here,” she says. “You never know what’s going to inspire you.”
American Idiot runs through Aug. 12 at Players by the Sea, 106 N. Sixth Street, Jacksonville Beach (www.playersbythesea.org).