When Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids opened sales for its 2016 – 2017 season, Executive Director Kyle Los admitted the tickets for “American Idiot” were the items most ticket buyers were seeking.
“I guess it is not surprising,” Los said during a phone interview, “considering that Green Day just announced it would be touring and it has just been announced that the musical will be made into a movie.”
“American Idiot” was first a concept album, best described as a “punk rock opera,” that marked a major comeback for the American rock band Green Day. It was the seventh album recorded by the group which had become popular in the 1990s but by 2000 the group’s popularity had waned.
Inspired by The Who’s classic rock opera “Tommy,” Green Day created its own story around Jesus of Suburbia, an adolescent anti-hero who is divided between “rage and love.” Through its plot, the album expresses the disillusionment and dissent of a generation which came of age in a period shaped by many tumultuous events like the Iraq War.
The album sold 15 million copies, was number one in 19 countries, won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005, and spanned such hits as “American Idiot,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Holiday,” Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and “Jesus of Suburbia.”
From there it was reworked into a musical with the story expanded from that of the concept album, centering on three disaffected young men, Johnny, Will, and Tunny. Johnny and Tunny flee a stifling suburban lifestyle and parental restrictions, while Will stays home to work out his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather. The former pair look for meaning in life and try out the freedom and excitement of the city. Tunny quickly gives up on life in the city, joins the military, and is shipped off to war. Johnny turns to drugs and finds a part of himself that he grows to dislike, has a relationship and experiences lost love. The musical gathered several more accolades including two Tony Awards and a 2011 Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.
“I think a lot of companies do not want to deal with the heron use that is in this production,” Los said as he reflected on how Actors’ was able to land the Michigan premiere of the musical which was described as “a fierce aesthetic charge” upon its opening in Broadway in 2010.
“While the story comes from 2004, which was during the George W. Bush administration, the story carries a strong to what is happening today especially during the current presidential election,” said Director Jolene Frankey. It speaks well to the disillusionment people – especially the younger generation – have with what is going on in today’s society.
For more information, visit actorstheatregrandrapids.org.