More than anything, the creative team behind the Broadway musical “American Idiot” wanted to take care of Green Day’s baby.
The road tour of the musical, formed primarily from the punk band’s 2004 concept album of the same name with additional songs from 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown,” will open Tuesday, March 25 for a 13-day run at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
“I was thinking that this has to feel like a Green Day album,” says Tom Kitt, who did the orchestrations and arrangements for the show. “This can’t be like something else. Whenever I questioned anything [I was doing], I asked myself, ‘Is this serving Green Day?’ I was led by the band and the book of the show.”
That book, about three disaffected young men coming of age in suburbia following 9/11, was written by Green Day singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, the show’s director.
“Looking back on it now, whenever anything threatened to become sentimental or stereotypically showbizzy, I would back way from it,” Mayer recalls. “I wanted this to be true to the ethos of Green Day. I wanted it to have a rush, a punk-based energy, and I didn’t want to pull any punches to make it easy for an audience.”
Even choreographer Steven Hoggett (“Once,” “Rocky,” “Peter and the Starcatcher”) was mindful of putting too much showiness into the show.
“I thought it was best to have moving bodies rather than dancing bodies,” he says. “The moment you start to choreograph a Green Day song, it will kill it.”
Their work was not only rewarded by two Tony Awards in 2010 and a Grammy in 2011, but praise from Armstrong himself, which was just as meaningful. “Some of the versions [in the musical] are better than what we recorded,” the band’s frontman says in “Broadway Idiot,” a 2013 documentary about turning the hit album into a hit musical.
“I was blown away when I saw that,” Kitt says. “I wanted to do well by them, that they knew their baby was well taken care of. At the end of the day, I wanted to make the band happy. What is interesting is that when you are Green Day, you never get outside of yourself and see and hear the music as an audience member. With [this show], they kind of can.”
Kitt, who won a Pulitzer Prize and two Tonys for his “Next to Normal” score, kept on working with Green Day after “American Idiot” opened in 2010 on the Great White Way. While he and his writing partner Brian Yorkey have just opened the musical “If/Then” with Idina Menzel and are writing songs for stage musical versions of “American Psycho” and “Magic Mike,” Kitt is working with Armstrong on “These Paper Bullets” at Yale Repertory Theatre. He also teamed with Green Day on the album “Tre!.”
“Billie texted me that he wanted me to do some horn arrangements, and then he wanted me to do some vocal arrangements on ‘Brutal Love,’ which opens the album,” Kitt recalls. “Then, he said to me, ‘Just go crazy,’ so I did these backing vocals. And they used my vocals, so I’m on a Green Day album. And I did “The Forgotten,” which closes the album. And right after [we worked together] on the show, they asked me to do some strings arrangements on ‘21st Century Breakdown.’ That was a huge pat on the back, that they really took to my arrangements.”
For Mayer, whose credits include Broadway’s “Spring Awakening” and NBC’s “Smash,” it was about the music from the very beginning.
“At first, I just heard a collection of really great songs that seemed to really resonate to the times we were living in, which was the post 9/11 years, the Bush years,” he says. “Only after listening to it over and over again that I started to hear the narrative ... and all of that seemed very potent to me.”
The challenge was to plot a show where the material is already written, albeit in another form. And when an impasse popped up, Mayer lucked out.
“This is the part where a certain amount of serendipity comes into the situation,” Mayer says. “And it just happened that in that particular moment, Billie Joe started sending me some of the songs from ‘21st Century Breakdown,’ their next album. And it just so happens that these songs really resonated. … ‘21 Guns’ is perfect for a full-on song with the full company singing. It’s the first time when everyone in the company is onstage singing.”
IF YOU GO
When: March 25 through April 6; 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays (and Wednesday, April 2); 1 p.m. matinees Sundays; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 30
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Contact: 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org.
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