Green Day’s American Idiot musical is less than one month away from opening, and Rolling Stone got a sneak peek at the Broadway version of the show — which premiered in Berkeley last September — at a sound check this afternoon, and caught up with Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool after the performance. On a stage adorned with punk-rock posters, graffiti and looping feeds of cable TV news blather, the American Idiot company delivered an explosive, hair-raising performance of the album’s title track. Of course, American Idiot — which is helmed by Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer — is meant to be a Broadway spectacle, but the rock opera still possess plenty of Green Day’s original angst-ridden grit: the cast, sporting Vans sneakers, rock T-shirts and tattoos, snarled through lines like, “Now everybody do the propaganda/And sing along to the age of paranoia.” Like its Broadway neighbor Rock of Ages, the Idiot band plays onstage, giving the show more of a genuine arena-rock vibe.
Afterward, Green Day revealed what it was like to teach the band how to learn the American Idiot songs properly. “There’s one way to simply listen to a record and learn how to play the songs,” Armstrong tells Rolling Stone, “but we sat down with them and showed them how. They’re amazing musicians. Technically, they’re better than we are.”
American Idiot was a reaction to “the age of paranoia” brought by George W. Bush’s presidency, but Green Day still believe the album’s message has resonance in the age of Obama and health care reform. “We live in a very divided country still and we’re just at the beginning of tackling a few of [these problems],” says Dirnt. “If anything, the statements in the play and everything else that’s going on in the world stand more today than maybe four or five years ago.” Armstrong was more blunt, joking, “We really hope the world stays kinda fucked up so our record stays relevant.”
After years of performing these songs, Armstrong still gets floored by hearing them live. “Watching ‘Last Night on Earth’ had a big impact on me,” he says. “Hearing women sing those songs instead of me has been eye-opening — they sound so much better than I do.”
As for the rumors that Tom Hanks’ Playtone studios will be doing an adaptation of American Idiot for the big screen, the play’s director Mayer suggested something is definitely in the works, although he’s taking things one step at a time. “We’re not dealing with [the movie] at all yet,” he says. “We just want to do our show, open it on Broadway, have that experience and then explore those options. Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman at Playtone are fabulous and they’re friends of ours. And they’ve had access and it’s been great to hear their enthusiasm [for the movie project].”