November 22, 2013 in Features

‘American’ appeal

Green Day rock opera draws diverse audience with its relatable – if adult – themes
By The Spokesman-Review

The company of “American Idiot” will perform the musical on the INB stage Friday and Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

‘American Idiot’

What: Rock opera based on Green Day’s Grammy-winning 2004 album of the same name

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: INB Performing Arts Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Cost: $30-$75, through TicketsWest


Note: The musical contains adult language and themes, and is not intended for children

In 2004, the pop-punk trio Green Day proved they had more in them than songs about getting off and getting high.

In their ambitious album “American Idiot,” the Berkeley-based trio – Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt – raged against the Bush administration, against apathy, against post-9/11 paranoia. As Pitchfork noted in its review, “For all its grandiosity, ‘American Idiot’ keeps its mood and method deliberately, tenaciously, and angrily on point.”

That anger paid. “American Idiot” hit No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, went platinum six times and won the Grammy for best rock album.

The band then took the whole rock opera thing to the next level, adapting the record for the stage. This sung-through musical – meaning there is no dialogue, only singing – premiered in Berkeley, Calif., in 2009 and headed to Broadway in 2010.

Now it’s coming to Spokane for a two-day run at the INB Performing Arts Center.

Actor Casey O’Farrell, who plays Will, one of the three suburban youths at the center of the musical, says the musical tells a story of searching and longing and discovery. Will and his two friends, Johnny and Tunny, are ready to leave their suburban community. However, Will’s girlfriend announces she’s pregnant, so he stays while Tunny joins the Army and Johnny chases bright lights in the big city.

O’Farrell said he can relate – somewhat – to the experiences

“I grew up in a really rural, suburban small town in Tennessee, and when I was 18, I moved to New York City and experienced life,” he said. “But I never got a girl pregnant or lost a leg in a war. … Whether it happened to you or not, whoever you are, you’ll know one of these people.”

Early in the production, the three main characters go their separate ways, and their stories are told individually. And those stories are told through the songs from the album – “Holiday,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “21 Guns,” “Letterbomb,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends” among them – as well as some B-side tracks and songs from the follow-up album, “21st Century Breakdown.”

O’Farrell, who has been on tour as Will for 16 months, said he’s amazed by the diversity of audiences.

“Every single night we have teens who are dressed like Green Day fans, covered in Green Day swag. Then they’re sitting next to the 70-year-old woman with her gray hair,” he said. “We see middle-aged people, and families come with their children, and that blows me away just because of the subject matter.”

It’s definitely an adult show, O’Farrell said. There are sexual scenes, scantily clad women, adult language and adult themes.

Still, he urges audience members to come with an open mind.

“I think whether you’re a theater fan or you’re a Green Day fan or you have no idea what you’re walking into, the show has a lot of offer,” he said. “Everyone that comes to see the show usually leaves in a positive way.”

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