Curtain Call: Sons of Rage and Love


Green Day’s American Idiot plays The Kirby on Wednesday

You could call it the RENT of the Oughts or the Hair of the 21st Century. Critics looking for a way to describe something they hadn’t exactly seen before also compared American Idiot to The Who’s Tommy. Offering almost no dialogue (director Michael Mayer actually cut what few lines existed when the show moved from Berkeley to Broadway), it is more of a rock opera than a nostalgic ‘jukebox musical’ like Jersey Boys or Mamma Mia. But pulling its punk aesthetics from the chaos of the suburban media-warped alienation of its soundtrack, it is to performance what abstract art is to painting.
Led by songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day had imagined its music scoring some visual performance piece as it created the concept album American Idiot, released in 2004, and later 21st Century Breakdown (2009). But it wasn’t until Mayer and musical arranger Tom Kitt sketched out a workshop of the show that the band saw the full potential of what it had created. The story following American Idiot from multi-platinum album to Broadway musical is documented in the film Broadway Idiot released in October. Meanwhile the third national tour continues to penetrate middle American, playing the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre for one night only, Wednesday, March 5. American Idiot is a period piece that is still contemporary, proposed Dan Tracy who stars as Tunny on the road. It may be a decade or two before we have the perspective to see the whole picture.

Actor Dan Tracy plays Tunny in the third national tour of American Idiot.

Actor Dan Tracy plays Tunny in the third national tour of American Idiot.

Your bio cites just as many, if not more, straight shows than musicals. And American Idiot doesn’t offer much dialogue.
But it is really a piece of performance art. It’s in the vein of a piece of physical theater, like the post-modern pieces happening in the ‘60s or ‘70s reimagined as this rock musical. There’s a lot of really elaborate staging and choreography. Nothing is very literal. It’s representative in a way. So I feel that a lot of the training I got as a straight actor, which is more of my wheelhouse, has helped me to get here. Now obviously it’s a rock musical, so you have to have a strong singing voice. Plenty of the people in the show are straight actors and musicians. Not many American Idiot people are necessarily perfect for a show like Wicked, but we are a perfect for shows like American Idiot.
After watching Broadway Idiot last night, I went back and listened to the original Green Day albums and it was like listening to a demo. It was as if this is what was supposed to happen to these songs and the creative team knew it.
I think Billie had the idea that he wanted it to be something bigger than what he had laid down and he was lucky enough to find such an amazing team. The work that Tom Kitt did on this album is absolutely incredible. The way he was able to take one voice and four instruments and turn them into 12 instruments and 30 voices or 20 voices is simply amazing. Listening to this cast album is like completely transformative.
Those original songs are deceptively simple — they have the structure, the foundation to be able to hold all of that.
Absolutely. I think that was some of the success of the album, that he was able to sort of transcend his punk genre and jump into this land of — like I said earlier, the melodies are classic and they really stand on their own two feet in the whole spectrum of music, not just in the punk rock world.
Tell me about your character, Tunny. It’s political, but it’s not political.
I like to say that the politics are a context. The show seems, right now, as if it is a contemporary piece about contemporary politics but I think it’s actually more of a post-9/11 period piece that hasn’t really gotten past the point to be a period piece yet. It still looks contemporary and you can still buy the costumes at a store any street you walk down in the United States right now. But the politics of it all are all underneath the first couple of numbers to give you a feeling for how these characters are feeling and why they make the decisions that they do. It’s not directly anti any particular president or anything like that. It’s more just political in that it’s about growing up in the post-9/11 era.
And you’re playing a soldier.
My character grows up in a broken home in a suburb in California. He is very unhappy where he is. He gets into the hardcore music scene and he sort of defines himself by violence. He has 13 tattoos. He is kind of emotionally detached from the world and he and his best friend end up going to New York City, which he also hates because, as I have learned quickly about New York City, it’s not necessarily the most friendly place. It’s kind of scary and there are a lot of things that can upset someone, so he ends up channeling his violence into something good and ends up serving in the military. He has a really difficult stretch — I don’t want to give too much away, but he ends up back where he started at home, with a brand-new perspective on the world and I think his story is one of hope. And it’s inspiring, for sure.
Armstrong stresses how dark the show is but of course there has to be a redeeming message, even in a punk rock musicals.
I think the encore that we play ends up instilling a little but of hope with the audience and it leaves people with a smile on their face. It’s definitely a dark story but punk rock isn’t all about the darkness and anger. It’s also about the joy of banding together with a group of people who feel the same way. It’s about community and that’s … where the love comes from.
Steven Hoggett’s choreography is fascinating. That was probably a lot of the rehearsal work you all had to do.
That’s definitely the hardest of the structure, especially for the ensemble members. We had 12 days to learn all of that stuff and put it all together. In a featured role, I and the other principal actors have a little bit of different responsibility in trying to figure out what our stories are and what we are saying to the audience and how that acting is executed throughout the show. But most of the ensemble spent that time learning the choreography which originally was conceived with a group of actors and the choreographer piecing it together bit by bit. He would bring in three pieces, three physical actions which describe breaking out of a glass box, and then the next days the actors could come in with their three little movements to break themselves out of the box and then slowly but surely that was weaned down into what you see on stage in “Jesus of Suburbia” today. So our process was more learning what the original company had conceived. We didn’t conceive any of it on our own, but that’s only due to time constrictions. It still has that flavor of that organic movement that comes from inside of you and everything is a form of that personal action.
It’s really exciting that this kind of movement is coming to middle American because I don’t think a lot of our audiences have had the opportunity to see people move that way on stage.
It’s a show that draws people who have never seen musicals before and that’s really cool because I think it may bring them to see another musical in the future. It is dance and people recognize it as dance but it doesn’t have the same connotations that other form of dance have, where people have pre-conceived notions of how they should feel about ballet or what ever it is. I think it can bring a new appreciation for what we do as performers.
It must be challenging to fit the show into so many different spaces (e.g. the walls of Christine Jones’s original set were 40 feet high). Do you do any of the flying choreography on this tour?
There are lot of one nighters and we are plying some smaller spaces this year which is exciting because we get to go to a lot places in middle America and they get the opportunity to see the show but a lot of those theaters are only 20-to-25 footers and can’t support the flying system so they had to make the decision not to continue the tour because they needed those cities or take the flying away. So the flying has been eliminated and the choreographer conceived a piece that, if you haven’t seen the flying, most people don’t miss it. If you have seen the flying, it’s this element of spectacle that my character experienced that really added to my story. But I think they still have the same level of storytelling and I think it still really works the way it is now.
So that is your character, Tunny, and “The Extraordinary Girl,” who is a nurse, in that scene.
She’s either a nurse or a doctor, but she becomes a personification of my morphine-based fantasy and then she ends up kind of saving my psyche and I recognize this person who I saw in my dreams and then in “21 Guns” she kind of talks me off the ledge and shows me that everything can be OK. And we end up together in the end.
Is there a scene you especially enjoy playing?
I have a blast executing the first few numbers where we set the stage for what’s about to happen. It’s just a group of 20-somethings on stage screaming and yelling and dancing and having a lot of fun together and then for me it takes a turn into this more serious dark place. And that’s been a challenge to try and keep that fresh and allow myself to go into the darker places inside and present all of that truthfully to the audience every night. But it’s fun to experience that whole arch every night and its very cathartic once I get to the end of the show having experienced all those things and then I can just leave it on the stage and walk away.
What else might our readers want to know?
It is important to note that some of the content is explicit. There is representational heroin use on the stage. There is a bit of choreography that appears to be live sex although it is a choreographed dance and they are fully clothed.
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll …
I like to say it is important to go into the show with an open heart and an open mind so you can really see the fully trajectory of the story of these people and not just shut them out because you might not agree with some of the staging choices that have been made.
Did you grow up listening to Green Day?
(American Idiot) came out in 2004 so I was 14. I didn’t listen to Green Day before that, but once it came out I listened to all the other Green Day albums and now that I’m in the show I’ve listened to even more. I’ll always feel some kind of connection to Billie Joe and his story and to this story and the people associated with the show.
Something about coming of age after 9/11?
Absolutely. I think I really connect with my character on the level of when 9/11 happened, it was when I realized that the world wasn’t as carefree as it was in my small little town in New England. I come from a really supportive and loving family and I didn’t have a lot of the difficult experiences that my character had and I also really didn’t know of a lot of terrible things happening in other parts of the world until that point and I think that’s what you see on stage and that’s what keeps us all going here because we realize how important this story is to so many people.
Tickets to American Idiot range from $36 to $77. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the show scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Call the box office at (570) 826-1100 or visit for more information.