Since Green Day’s seventh album, “American Idiot,” already had an operatic structure and narrative, it’s no surprise an eponymous Broadway show was eventually adapted from the highly praised punk rock record. And it was only a matter of time before Shot in the Park Productions decided to produce it.
But do songs such as “Jesus of Suburbia,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Whatsername” translate well to a theatrical setting? Absolutely, said Grace Hoefer, who plays the main character’s drug-dealing alter ego St. Jimmy.
“It’s so crazy how these directors from regular Broadway life took punk rock music and made it into such a deep story,” she said. “It’s so cool what they saw in it.”
The story in “American Idiot” takes themes and occurrences from the original Green Day album and centers on three disaffected young men – Johnny, Will and Tunny. These characters experience (and sing about) suburban lifestyle, parental restrictions, relationship problems, self-identity, drug abuse and lost love – the manifestation of punk rock music and teenage angst all balled up into an hour-and-a-half show.
Though there are many storylines and topics going on all at once, director Joey Hartshorn said “American Idiot” is still a fluid show.
“Not only does it highlight certain people’s experiences in a whole musical, but it is a true ensemble,” said Hartshorn. “It’s about being in a selective group and how they express themselves. It’s about confusion and conflict and coming to your own.”
Hoefer, 17, said she remembers listening to the original 2004 album religiously. It was life-changing, she said. And now that Hoefer is apart of acting out the songs in a narrative format, she said the album makes “so much more sense now than it did when [she] was younger.”
“It’s not necessarily what I ever pictured the songs turning into,” said Hoefer. “When I was younger and listening to songs like ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ and ‘Holiday,’ these songs kicked copious amounts of ass that made me feel so empowered.”
And they still do. For fellow cast member Joey Ulven, who plays the character Tunny, the musical highlights the emotions conveyed in each song.
“The scene with ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams,’ when you listen to it, it kind of shows the person singing it is kind of alone and they feel kind of abandoned,” said Ulven, 21. “The scenes in the musical definitely show how [the characters] feel.”
Ulven said the original Green Day album was able to communicate what a younger generation “wanted to say but couldn’t because [they] were just kids.” Which Hoefer said also reflects on the cast members themselves.
“We’re playing these characters but they’re really us,” she said. “They’re extensions of us and the bad places and good places we’ve been in our lives.”
As such, the cast has adopted the punk rock sound, or rather how Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong sounds when he sings. The trick? It’s all in the vowels.
“It’s so important to get that perfect vowel structure that sounds like you’re pissed off all the time,” said Hoefer. “Although there are a few chords in the song ‘Whatsername’ where it’s balls-to-the-wall, choral-perfect vowels where everything’s coming out of you in one spot. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Singing a punk rock musical adds a different dynamic to the show – and it’s also a lot of fun.
“It makes you feel like you’re a rockstar basically,” said Ulven. “You don’t have to hold back or do anything that’s pretty and nice and fine. You gotta be out there and outrageous and get in people’s faces.”
Otherwise, it’s not punk rock.