What started as a rock album in 2004 has since become a pop culture phenomenon, and it isn't yet finished. Green Day's American Idiot album threads a storyline through all of its songs. The creation was intentional on the part of songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, with inspiration drawn from musical theatre and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Armstrong envisioned "that it would be staged or we'd create a film or something... we were thinking in terms that it kind of felt like scoring a movie."
That trajectory got herded along by theater director Michael Mayer, who guided Duncan Sheik's hit Spring Awakening. After hearing American Idiot, Mayer got a hankering to adapt it for the stage. He worked with Armstrong on the libretto. While Armstrong handled the lyrics, the music is credited to the whole band, which also includes Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool. To round out the story, Green Day pulled songs from some of their other albums, including 21st Century Breakdown.
In September 2009, The Berkeley Rep hosted 10 previews before opening the new production. It quickly became their top-grossing show ever and the run was extended. Plans then were made with eyes toward Broadway.
A few members of the Berkeley cast went along for the ride. Among them were John Gallagher Jr. as Johnny, Mary Faber as Heather, and Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy. Although he kept music supervisor and orchestrator Tom Kitt in place, Mayer recruited a lot of his Spring Awakening team to help out.
On April 20, 2010, after a few weeks of previews, the one-act, through-sung show opened at the St. James Theatre. Over the course of the run, Armstrong made occasional appearances in the role of St. Jimmy. After 422 performances, American Idiot closed on April 24, 2011.
As fashioned by the album, the Johnny character lives at the center of the story. He's a troubled teen who escapes to the city away from his parents and the suburban life that is suffocating him. As Johnny embarks on his search for both meaning and adventure, one of his friends gets shipped off to Iraq while another gets anchored by a pregnant girlfriend.
Through his searching, Johnny discovers love, then loses it. As events unfold, something in him starts to emerge, a part of him that he doesn't like.
The New York Times called the Broadway staging "a pulsating portrait of wasted youth that invokes all the standard genre conventions ... only to transcend them through the power of its music and the artistry of its execution, the show is as invigorating and ultimately as moving as anything I’ve seen on Broadway this season. Or maybe for a few seasons past."
The production won two Tony Awards and one Grammy. A North American tour is set to get underway beginning in Toronto in December of 2011.