This weekend, students will perform rock classics like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” in a reimagined production of “American Idiot,” a musical based on Green Day’s 2004 album of the same name.
Performances will take place at 8 p.m. from Feb. 27–29, with an additional 2 p.m. show on the 29th in the Morse Crescent Underground Theater. “American Idiot” tells of young Americans struggling to fight against both societal expectations and their own demons as they reckon with both the political climate and their personal sense of purpose. The plot revolves around the lives of three disaffected young men: Johnny, Will and Tunny. Johnny and Tunny flee a stifling suburban lifestyle to look for meaning in life and try out the freedom of the city. Tunny joins the military, Johnny turns to drugs and Will stays at home to work out his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend Heather.
According to director Madison Cole ’22, the show is more a “conglomeration of character studies” than a story following one specific plot-line. The show uses metaphorical language to tell an abstract and often confusing story. Cole said this confusion is a critical contribution to the show’s message.
“It’s a metaphorical representation of the psychological effects that the larger American political conscious has on the country,” Cole said.
Cole said that, after analyzing the songs’ lyrics, she decided to stage the production around rage and love — two contrasting themes she said are at the core of Green Day’s original concept album. According to Cole, the student production will spotlight the embodiment of these emotions in the characters St. Jimmy and Whatsername, an interesting dichotomy she believes is underexplored in the original musical.
The team endeavored to reimagine the characters within a present-day context, Cole said. As a female director, it was especially important for her to make the women of the story more three-dimensional. The show also features an almost all-female production team and an all-female pit orchestra, aiming to subvert the notion that punk music is male-dominant.
Cole said she wanted these songs to be experienced in a way that transcends the teen angst they are often associated with. Cole was not expecting the dense, metaphorical nature of the lyrics, but the text’s complexity opens up possibilities for deeper exploration of the characters’ psychology. For example, the ensemble vocalizes the conflict within the main characters’ minds through music at certain moments in the play.
Paige Hann ’20, who plays the female lead Whatsername, said that the music in “American Idiot” depicts the coming-of-age process within a politically fraught environment that students can relate to. The disillusionment expressed within “American Idiot” mirrors the disillusionment that many people feel in the modern era.
Charlie Foster ’21, who plays Johnny, said the show offers a valuable opportunity to see and discuss pain “out in the open.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of suffering that goes on, both at this school and in the world, that is really in the dark, and people in part aren’t really in a position to express it to anyone,” Foster said. He hopes the show helps people feel seen, and enables them to deal with suffering in a community.
Cole described an “incredible feeling of solidarity” she has felt in the cast and production team.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without the open-mindedness of my actors, and their willingness to explore these characters in a new light,” Cole said.
The production contains 16 content warnings –– listed on the Yale College Arts website — including depictions of homophobia, drug abuse and depression. Cole said all the offensive content remaining in the show has been purposefully left due to their connections with important plot elements. Cole said it is important to her that audience members feel comfortable, and welcomes discussions about her directorial choices regarding offensive content.
“We have the best of intentions with this show,” Foster said. “We have done all that we could fathom doing to make this relatable and appropriate…everything is used how it should be.”
“American Idiot” was first performed in 2009. The show won two Tony Awards, as well as a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 2011.
Carrie Zhou | firstname.lastname@example.org