Who: Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Mayer, interviewed by Jordan Roth
What: “Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong in Conversation with Michael Mayer: The Creators of Broadway’s American Idiot”
Where: 92nd Street Y
When: September 19, 2010
Thumbs: Way Up
The 92nd St. Y had the atmosphere of a rock concert for one night, complete with adoring, young fans (some with dyed hair) in T-shirts and carrying paraphernalia with “Green Day” emblazoned on it. With the ambiance set to the tune of some of the band’s tracks – and a dozen or so fans surrounding Armstrong’s wife, Adrienne in the crowd seeking autographs – host Jordan Roth took the stage for a 10-minute introduction that praised both Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer for their contributions to rock and musical theater. Together, they’ve put together American Idiot that gives a voice to the “rage and love of a generation.”
It all started with Mayer who approached Armstrong about collaborating on the project. Mayer was impressed by the “eloquence” of the writing of the hit album by the same name, and wished to build a Broadway show around it. But they concluded that the show would be better off taking additional songs from the album 21st Century Breakdown in order to create a fuller narrative. The first album came out during the Bush presidency and reflects unrest and hostility, according to Armstrong, while the second offers signs of progress if not resolution.This shift in politics and emotion comes steadily across in both works. For Mayer, it also had the added bonus of filling in storytelling holes.
Armstrong says that the 9/11 attacks left mass confusion. The government’s policy, he says, was to alienate the U.S. from the rest of the world. “I felt so misrepresented,” he recalls. So he the band decided to write about these heavier topics and to channel their anger into music. Because of the album’s strong and imposing message, Mayer had a relatively easy time coming up with a story to match the themes. He wanted the music to speak for itself, so he left the narrative “pretty lean.” Besides, the songs themselves carry a certain character and momentum that require the audience’s full attention.
Mayer says that theater has always told the stories of the active and vocal generation of the time; American Idiot follows in that tradition. So what’s Armstrong think of his songs being performed on stage? They’re “two different animals,” he assures. He admits, though, that certain songs have been adapted so well to Broadway that the band now plays them differently on tour. It seems that the art forms have worked in tandem even better than the duo could have imagined.
What They Said
“It gets you right in the middle of the worst political era of my lifetime.”
– Bilie Joe Armstrong believes that his album speaks for the times
“Of all the things on Broadway right now, we definitely have the most bizarre line out the door.”
– Billie Joe Armstrong says that many of the band’s fans are coming to see the show
“He is an artist of poetry and purpose and he makes kick-ass shows.”
– Jordan Roth’s introduction for Michael Mayer was full of praise for the director
“Right when Dookie came out it was our mission to destroy as many of those [grunge] bands as possible.”
– Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day helped usher in a new layer of popular punk rock music
“In order to change something about society, you have to be a part of it at the same time.”
– Billie Joe Armstrong on what it takes to make a difference
What We Thought
- Jordan Roth was excellent in his role as interviewer. His questions were well-researched and well-delivered, and he was extremely well-versed in the material. He managed to ask between 15 and 20 questions in about an hour, a huge accomplishment and evidence that he kept the conversation moving.
- Mayer said that if he could do it over again, he’d cut down on the amount of movement going on at once on the stage. He indicates that it can be distracting more than alluring.
Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.
Panel Nerds don’t like…Plotters
Many of the audience members had obviously seen American Idiot before. Yet some, like us, hadn’t. While this event was oriented around the show, it was by no means a requirement to have seen the musical in order to appreciate the panel discussion. Roth, we felt, took perhaps too many questions about the impulse and impact behind staging the production, rather than the inspiration behind the project, album, and the music. Had this panel followed a show performance, this “talk-back session” would have hit its mark. Instead, it left us wondering at times what we were missing and wishing we were in on the fun.
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