American Idiot's message still relevant today

New URP production of Green Day's punk musical combines drama with rock concert experience

“Summer has come and passed/The innocent can never last/Wake me up when September ends.” – Green Day, “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”

Green Day’s American Idiot, Centennial Theatre, Nov. 5-10, 8 p.m. Preview: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m., Matinee: Saturday, Nov. 9 at  2 p.m. Tickets: $25-$45 now on sale at urp.ca or 604-984-4484. For more information visit: urp.ca.

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It was a humbler time, sort of.

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was streaming – that is, playing – in movie theatres around the world; People could be seen dancing and grooving armed with their fourth generation iPods as the white buds effortlessly dangled from their ears, much like the famous two-tone commercials; The Red Sox shook off Bambino’s curse and won the World Series for the first time in 86 years; And in Canada, the softwood lumber dispute continued unabated.

The year was 2004.

Amid all the celebrity gossip, foreign affairs jockeying, and technological hoopla of the time – Myspace soon became the biggest social network ever, before being harshly supplanted – a veteran band was about to unleash their first fully-fledged punk rock opera. Somehow, it ended up being exactly what people needed to hear, even if they didn’t know it at the time.

Green Day put out American Idiot on Sept. 20, 2004. A concept album about an elusive “Jesus of Suburbia,” the record follows a cast of characters as they navigate the lower-middle class doldrums of suburban America. The spectre of the invasion of Iraq, mass surveillance, teenage ennui, and the presidency of George W. Bush weighs heavily on the album and its sociopolitical outlook. Is the president the titular “American Idiot,” or are we all guilty of such transgressions?

Not surprisingly, the album was adapted into a highly successful stage musical five years later. The former Broadway production has been touring the world regularly ever since. Starting next week, it’ll be showing in North Vancouver.

But while the performance is still rooted in the decade in which it was first conceived, it hasn’t been a stretch to make the show applicable for 2019 audiences, according to director Richard Berg.

“I’m sad to say that we didn’t have to do much to make it relevant for 2019 audiences,” says Berg. “I wish with all my might that we did look back at 2004 and the president that the U.S. had then and could say, ‘Lucky we got past that.’ But unfortunately, it seems more often than not we look at that and go, ‘Well, maybe that wasn’t so bad after all.’”

While the story itself is not overtly political, the setting of the story is, says Berg. Much like the original production, the stage backdrop will be punctuated with various media images to lend the show a sense of time and place – and the requisite panic that comes from being inundated with information. The images this time around will be from the last few years, however, says Berg, and will include scenes of political pundits talking about how Donald Trump could “never win” to scenes of Trump leading the U.S. government now.

“But also, things like the climate action march and weather events and school shootings and all the things that are so messed up in our world right now and have young people so worried about their future,” adds Berg.

A six-piece band will help deliver the hybrid vibe of theatre production-meets-rock concert that Berg is going for, he says.

“The focus that I’ve had in rehearsal is really putting the rock concert first,” he says. “It feels like a rock concert experience that then has a theatrical story being told within it.”

Audiences can expect to hear every song from the American Idiot album, as well as many cuts from Green Day’s follow-up record, 21st Century Breakdown.

“Anyone that has any recollection … of the original album I think will not be disappointed at all. The music sounds amazing and feels like it did when I listened to it in 2004,” says Berg. “For people that don’t know it and are coming to it because they like theatre, not because they’re Green Day fans, they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how theatrical the music is.”

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