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'American Idiot' gives post-9/11 nod to Broadway

American Idiot: Not your father's musical, even if your father's musical was Tommy.

The show, based on Green Day's 2004 Grammy Award-winning album of the same name, is a rock musical for sure. And the creative team that brought the show to Broadway (where it was Tony Award-nominated for Best Musical) includes some of the Great White Way's leading lights, including director Michael Mayer, arranger Tom Kitt, choreographer Steven Hoggett and producer Tom Hulce. Yet, American Idiot's success was in part because those people embraced the original's next-gen, post-9/11 sensibility, applying traditional Broadway ethics without changing the heart of Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics or Green Day's pop-punk appeal.

The result, said Thomas Hettrick, who plays Tunny in the touring production of American Idiot, is something longtime Broadway fans want to see but that brings new fans to the theater.

"I get a lot of folks tell me this was their first time seeing a musical. I tell them 'That's great. Keep going, but they're not all going to be like this,' " he said.

The show required a different approach to the traditional musical theater song and dance, Hettrick said.

"It has a physicality that I've never seen done," he said.

"But it has to be that way to emote and carry the story (which includes almost no dialogue). I mean, we've got some great dances, but they're less about technique and more about what you bring of yourself to the moves."

The singing, while arranged by Kitt to be sung by a full cast, still requires a different attitude from other shows, even shows such as Tommy, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar or Rent, each of which, in its own way, deviated from the standard presentation of its time.

"What's awesome is you're going to hear a lot of very unique voices in this show," Hettrick said.

American Idiot chronicles three friends and their disillusionment with what they perceive as a humdrum existence in their suburban hometown. As they prepare to head off for adventure in the city, one (Will) learns of his girlfriend's pregnancy and opts to stay behind.

Johnny and Tunny head for the big city, where Johnny loses himself in the drug scene while Tunny, still unmoved by this new adventure, enlists in the Army.

By the end, the friends have made mistakes, learned some lessons and renewed their friendship.

"The songs and the movement are very specific to each character's story, to where you don't have to overwork the part despite there not being any dialogue," Hettrick said.

Hettrick added the cast is able to capture all the angst, confusion and anger of the post-9/11 world "because we're really all from that generation."

That said, there is a classic musical theater story feel to American Idiot as well, in which each of the characters experiences significant personal change and a wide range of emotions but emerges, if not totally happy, at least a little wiser.

"The ending's not so much a period but a question mark," Hettrick said.

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