After 9/11, many of the actions that came to define the presidency of George W. Bush took place in quick succession.
By the end of October, American forces entered Afghanistan and Congress passed the Patriot Act, making it easier for the government to spy on civilians. In January, the military established a detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Iraq was invaded a year later.
As early as 2004, pop-punk band Green Day knew the score, channeling its fury into a punk-rock opera, “American Idiot.” An album sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, launched a comeback for the band and spawned a Broadway musical written by singer and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer.
Like the album on which it’s based, the musical follows a young man torn between rage and love for the world around him. Firehouse Theatre’s production opens this weekend.
“It’s about living in a world that you feel you don’t fit into, and I feel it’s universal the way they tell it,” says John Mincks, who stars as Johnny. “The best way to describe it is a big, raucous, punk-rock musical that incorporates every style of rock possible to tell the story of three men who are disenchanted with the world.”
Johnny and friends Will and Tunny live in Jingletown, USA. Saturated with television and fed up with the state of the union, Johnny convinces his friends to escape suburbia and head for the city. But before they can leave, Will finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and must stay behind. After arriving in the city, Tunny has trouble adjusting and joins the Army. On his own, Johnny develops an addiction to heroin.
A Green Day fan since he was a kid, director Adam Ferguson says the show’s punk-rock approach to musical theater is quite the spectacle.
“It’ll be a show like no one’s really seen before in this area,” Ferguson says. He adds that the show hews very close to the original album and has minimal dialogue between songs. “The really big thing about this show is the music. It does have all the songs from the album, as well as the following album, ‘21st Century Breakdown.’”
A major difference between this and other versions of the musical is that the actors play all of the instruments.
“There’s no pit band,” musical director Matt Koon says. “The cast is playing all the music in the play, which as far as I know is pretty unusual.”
To make sure that the cast members knew their instruments, Koon — who has spent 20 years teaching music and runs Mako Music School in Mechanicsville — says they spent the first month of rehearsals learning all the parts. He says fans of the album will enjoy hearing four or five vocal harmonies on top of the album’s original songs.
“It will have people who know the material hearing it in a whole new way,” Koon says.
Anna Rose, who plays Johnny’s love interest Whatshername, played acoustic guitar before joining the cast, but had to learn electric for the show. She also plays viola in the show.
“Come looking for a rock-show environment,” Rose says. “It’s going to be in your face, and the [theater] is going to look different.”
Though the Firehouse is a smaller setting than the theaters of Broadway, Mincks says, that may work to the show’s advantage: “We’re sort of trying to find really cool and unique ways to adapt such a big rock musical into a smaller, more intimate stage.”
For those who are skeptical of a punk musical written by a rock band, Koon has a message for them: See it first.
“I’m a little bit older, and the music is surprisingly good,” Koon says. “Green Day is a good band, a well-known band. But I wasn’t aware of how sophisticated and beautiful and dynamic their music was. If you’re not familiar with Green Day, you’ll be surprised.” S
“American Idiot” plays through July 23 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. For information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call 355-2001.