While I am only a moderate fan of Green Day I’ve respected the band since I first saw them live in 1995. As a guitar teacher I got a lot of exposure to the band, especially their loosely-themed concept album American Idiot. I taught every song on that album hundreds of times over and I came to really, really like it. When I saw that the album had been turned into a Broadway musical I was intrigued. When I read that Green Day guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Joe Armstrong would be filling the role of St. Jimmy for a short stint I was interested. And when this stint overlapped with my New York Phishing trip I was just plain “in”.
This was my first Broadway musical and I was excited. Though I’ve never been a big fan of musicals I was musical director for my university theatre troupe for a few years so I came to appreciate the form. In the interim I’ve seen and enjoyed a few of the classics that I had always avoided, like The Sound Of Music and Jesus Christ Superstar for example, and I’ve always loved concept albums like The Wall and Bat Out Of Hell so seeing a concept album on Broadway of all places was sure to be a treat.
It was a matinee on January 2nd, 2011, and as I drove through Times Square traffic was slow. As I sat in traffic a few crazy New Yorkers vied for my attention from the sidewalk. New York is a wacky city and sometimes crazy is best left alone; I turned up the stereo and avoided eye contact.
At one point I had pulled just a teensy bit too far into a crosswalk and darn-near everyone crossing the street pointed to my front tire and tried to get my attention. “Yeah buddy” (I thought, staring straight ahead), “I know I drove onto the white paint by maybe an inch, give it a rest.”
So imagine my surprise when I scored awesome street parking next to the venue and got out of the car only to find my front tire was completely, utterly flat. And here it was the Sunday of New Years weekend. I wasn’t sure what to do so I did what I do best – I went to the show.
The St. James Theatre wasn’t very elegant or too big…I’m not sure what I expected but I know I expected more. Your whole life you hear about Broadway so you think it’s going to by a big, ritzy thing…I guess one is bound to be a bit disappointed.
The set design was pretty basic, basically some chain link fences and graffitied walls with a bit of furniture strewn about. I found the show a bit naive and underwritten though they did a great job constructing a cohesive story that flowed into the albums often-abstract lyrics so well. The music stayed pretty faithful to the arecord and followed a similar running order, though there were a few interesting rewrites here and there, and they included a few tracks from Green Day’s newest release as well. Billie Joe made his entrance about halfway through the show and he was pretty heavily involved thereafter. He sang lead on three or four tunes and was without question the best singer up there and his acting was on par with everyone else too; all around he did an excellent job. The show had an encore, with Armstrong leading the entire cast in a singalong of one of Green Day’s biggest hits, and though I was far from blown away overall it was well worth the $40 or so that my balcony ticket cost. It was extra-cool to see Billy Joe act out a part that he created in song but overall the show didn’t feel that far ahead of the college-level productions I was part of back in the day and certainly fell short of the Broadway home run I was hoping for.
(Is it ironic that Broadway feels like another overblown lie spun by Hollywood?)
But truth be told I was mostly just sitting there wondering what I was going to do about that flat tire. No matter how hard I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on the art in front of me I was just too distracted to fully appreciate the show. I doubt my addled brain gave the musical a very fair shake.
America Idiot only ran for a year on Broadway – I don’t know, maybe that’s a long time – but I’m sure it will live on in high school productions for years and years to come. Maybe that was the plan all along. Though maybe not…there’s a fair amount of drug use and other hoolaganisms that might not pass the sniff test of some of the more conservative PTA groups (which is probably all of them).
After the show we shunned the crowded staircase heading to ground level and ducked through an unmarked doorway, which led us through the theatre’s catacombs and past the dressing rooms. We decided not to join the handful of hopefuls who had also somehow found themselves backstage and were hoping to gain audience with Billie Joe, instead finding an exit and emerging into the alley behind the theatre in front of a throng of people corralled behind gates waiting for autographs. We signed none – being in a hurry and all – and made our escape unrecognized.
Back at the car I jacked it up and put on the hateful dummy spare right there on Broadway. Of course there were no garages open and I couldn’t drive all the way back to Ottawa on the undersized spare tire so we ended up at a cheap dive motel in New Jersey for the night.
The place was so bad that when I went to the lobby at 7pm and asked for a takeout menu to order food the guy looked at me like I was crazy. “Ain’t nobody gonna deliver out here this time of night,” he said, shrugging and turning his attention back to his folded newspaper. We spent the night on top of the bedspread, munching potato chips and turning up the Neil Young documentary that we found on television loud enough to drown out most of the nefarious, scary. and surely illegal sounds coming from the parking lot outside the door.
The next morning $28 got the tire fixed (it was a nail) at a nearby garage and we were back in Ottawa by 5pm. Six shows in six days over a hazy whirlwind birthday/New Years manic floor-to-ceiling blizzard forever-fiesta extended holiday weekend party and I tagged up home-free with no obvious scars or permanent damage. That qualifies as an all-around success.