The ensemble wore clothes straight out of Hot Topic. Fishnets and skinny jeans; combat boots and canvas sneakers; band shirts for Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana. They’re the political pop-punks of a post-9/11 world—basket cases, nimrods, and insomniacs on the boulevard of broken dreams, bidding good riddance to their 21st century breakdown. Welcome to paradise.
Sound familiar? Well, let’s be honest: Who didn’t have a Green Day phase?
This past week, the Musical Theatre Society, or MTS, put on three performances of American Idiot in Little Building’s Cabaret. Around 80 people attended each show, filling the venue to capacity, according to director Joshua Shelor.
The Tony-winning production, which ran on Broadway in 2010 and 2011, is a stage adaptation of the massively popular record of the same name. It’s a concept album that follows a rebellious, angry teenager, known only as the Jesus of Suburbia, as he skips town and leaves for the city. Shelor, a junior performing arts major, said he drew inspiration from his childhood.
“I lived in a valley surrounded by mountains, all I wanted to do was to go to a city,” Shelor said.
“The message of the show hits home in that way. I needed to get as far away from home as humanly possible.”
Marina Altschiller, the senior performing arts major who conducted American Idiot’s band, said she remembered growing up with the album when she was 10 years old.
“It came out right before I moved from the town that I grew up in to New Hampshire,” Altschiller said. “It was my best friend and I, sitting in her garage, angsty oil painting… [It] was the anthem of my childhood.”
Heavily inspired by the original album, the musical follows three disenfranchised youth, unhappy with their commercialized suburban surroundings. The trio wish to escape their hometown in favor of the big city—implied to be Boston in this particular production—but it doesn’t go according to plan. One stays home to live with his pregnant girlfriend. Another, numb and jaded, finds himself bored of urban life and enlists in the military. Johnny, the third friend and main protagonist, struggles with lost love and hard drugs in his new metropolitan life. The show has little dialogue, opting instead to tell the story through the sometimes raucous, sometimes melancholic, tracks from the Green Day canon. Shelor made some changes to the script, like making the mysterious and troublesome drug dealer St. Jimmy a woman.
Tim Malboeuf, a freshman performing arts major, played Johnny. He and Shelor said the show came together in only three weeks, which demanded many late nights in rehearsal.
“This has been, by far, the fastest I’ve ever memorized a full-length musical,” Malboeuf said.
Khyati Sehgal, a sophomore performing arts major, saw the Monday matinee. She said she remembered listening to Green Day on the radio when she was a kid.
“I was probably 10 years old, I didn’t really have any angst in me,” Sehgal said. “But listening to the music and hearing them perform gave me some kind of rage, and made me feel kind of nostalgic…. As a teenager in high school, you’re taught that it’s uncool to feel things. I’m turning 20 in less than a month, I’ve got to be an angsty teenager now!”
A band, complete with drums, guitar, and piano, accompanied the show. Guitarist Greg Dunn, a junior marketing communication major, joined the group only three days before the show opened. He said he already had American Idiot in his repertoire.
“I was eight or nine when the album came out, and my older sister was like a Green Day superfan,” Dunn said. “I heard her listening to them one day, and I was like, ‘What? Music?’ I got super into them in elementary school, I remember writing vocab word sentences about Green Day. I rediscovered them in my teens, and I was like, ‘Hey! Someone else gets my angst!’”
Zack Autieri, a sophomore performing arts major, played piano and co-directed the band. He said playing American Idiot on piano was “one of the craziest things” he’s ever done. His fervent playing has even given him battle scars.
“It's been a lot of bandages, a lot of wraps for my fingers,” Autieri said. “It’s not written for piano at all!”
The backdrop of the set was a ramshackle wall, weathered and rusty, a hodgepodge of milk crates and two-by-fours nailed together—like the facade of an anarchist shantytown. It included some crude spray-paint artworks, like a backwards American flag, a skull and crossbones, and the iconic heart-shaped hand grenade from the cover of the American Idiot album.
Normally, the Cabaret is split with the stage in the back and the audience in front, but American Idiot divided the rectangular black box theater lengthwise. The show’s band was off of stage left. With its unusual set up, the space for the show was narrow in depth but ample in width.
Because of the stage’s width, the middle section of the audience had a near 180 degree view of the action. In practice, it played like a show in the round, where the audience surrounds the stage.
“We set it up so it’s a lot more intimate,” Shelor said. “They’re in your face — at some point, they may sit in your lap, that’s how close they are. You’re going to walk in expecting a rock concert and that’s one thing you’re definitely going to get: a rock concert with a really cool story.”