By John Benson
A decade ago when Green Day released its multiplatinum album “American Idiot,” the notion of a punk-rock-concept album was curious.
Soon rock critics and the mainstream were gravitating to the San Francisco band’s youthful story about self-destruction, self-identity and self-actualization. Add in some rebelliousness and angst and it’s a familiar punk-rock cocktail, but there was something different about “American Idiot” from the start.
Perhaps that’s why in 2009 the album was successfully transformed into a theatrical production, which ended up on Broadway a year later directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”) with orchestrations and arrangements by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”).
Now the Tony Award- winning “American Idiot” makes its Cleveland debut with shows Friday through Sunday at the Palace Theatre.
“The great thing about ‘American Idiot’ is it started off as a concept album,” said “American Idiot” Music Director Evan Jay Newman, calling from North Carolina. “The band always intended it to be a film or stage show. It lends itself really well. So a lot of the groundwork was done already, which makes it very different from the jukebox productions you see which is here is this story and ‘Oh, this song could work.’”
Still, “American Idiot” does have a jukebox feel — albeit all Green Day — with a program that features hits “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Holiday” and the title track “American Idiot.”
Also included in the score are several songs (“21 Guns” and “Know Your Enemy”) from Green Day’s 2009 release “21st Century Breakdown,” as well as the unreleased “When It’s Time” and the band’s 1997 hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”
“It’s an interesting situation that we’re faced with this because it is first and foremost this iconic rock album that we’re bringing to a theater audience,” said Newman, who joined the production two years ago. “So there is this line we try really hard to walk between, that genuine iconic Green Day sound and an experience that can still translate to a theater.
“What we hope a lot is the lyrics can be heard beneath the story at which point it becomes more of a concert than a play. So we try to find the very fine line between the driving energy and the brash loudness of this punk-rock show with a theatrical form.”
Basically, the story revolves around three boyhood friends — Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatsername — searching for meaning in a post 9-11 world. Ultimately, Newman said the impetus of “American Idiot” is about taking stock in one’s own life. This includes looking at one’s own choices and finding ways to improve their existence.
Naturally, these major conclusions can only be made after an angst-filled evening.
“It’s a very smart production and different from a lot of the things you see out there,” Newman said. “It’s trying to break the mold and has some very important political, philosophical and societal messages. In many ways, that’s why a lot of us got into theater and music in the first place. For me, that’s really exciting.”