THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Whether you love their music or hate it (and I love it), it's hard not to admire Green Day's longevity. Emerging as a raucous punk-party band in the early '90s, the trio of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool had a slew of hits, including Basket Case and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). Over the years, their catchy three-chord rock deepened and matured, gradually revealing a thematic ambition that culminated in their brilliant 2004 concept album American Idiot. A 13-song ode to sociopolitical disillusionment and rebellion, the album cast Green Day in a whole new light. And then, in 2010, someone got the idea to turn it into a Broadway musical. The documentary Broadway Idiot details this process.
In the early scenes, show director Michael Mayer admits that he and Green Day frontman/songwriter Armstrong are about as unlikely a duo as you could find. One is a hardcore theater buff, the other a punk rocker known for wild antics, both onstage and off. Nonetheless, Mayer was sufficiently moved by American Idiot to seek permission to bring it to the stage. Armstrong was intrigued, and later became absolutely riveted by the idea. Broadway Idiot shows what went into making the play a reality: formulating a fleshed-out story, interpreting the songs for the theater, designing the sets, etc. Through it all, Mayer and his crew seek Armstrong's approval, nervously awaiting his reaction to everything they do. To his credit, the rocker is generous, even admitting at one point that he thinks some of the show's song arrangements are better than his own.
Broadway Idiot is an enjoyable behind-the-scenes look at how a musical production is mounted. The actors rehearse endlessly, only to have major changes made to the show following previews, and the technical aspects require a lot of precision. At the same time, the documentary works as a portrait of an artist re-examining his own work. Billie Joe Armstrong could have said “screw you” to Mayer; instead, he remained open to a new interpretation of his creation. Along the way, we see Armstrong being liberated by the process. He no longer has to be seen as just a punker. His songs have been shown to transcend genre, displaying versatility in their musical craftsmanship. Things emerge from them that even he didn't know were there.
Oddly, the only drawback to Broadway Idiot is that, for all intents and purposes, the theatrical version of American Idiot seems to have been a relatively drama-free project. Either that or director Doug Hamilton chose not to show any strife. While always interesting, the documentary is never exactly dramatic. This is not to say that only movies about troubled productions are good, just that Broadway Idiot stays pretty close to the surface. If there were any shades of disagreement or discontent, there are no signs to be found here. The other two members of Green Day are also pushed into the background. Granted, Armstrong is the main songwriter, but it would have been nice to hear what Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool had to say.
Nonetheless, Broadway Idiot is fun and, of course, has great music. Even if not thoroughly in-depth, it does at least give you an idea of what an undertaking it is to bring a new musical to the stage. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the film is to say this: I really want to see American Idiot on stage now.
( out of four)
Note: Broadway Idiot is playing theatrically starting Oct. 11, and is also available on demand via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, and other digital providers.
Broadway Idiot is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
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