Winnipeg Studio Theatre’s presentation of American Idiot comes at a time when Canadians can relate to angsty lyrics about a country divided.
“Green Day’s not afraid to talk about politics,” Stephanie Sy, who plays Whatshername in the musical, says. “I think they celebrate open discussion about it … that’s why Green Day works. They’re looking at it from everyone’s point of view, and they’re saying how they feel about it honestly.”
The American Idiot album was originally released in 2004 – the year George W. Bush was elected president – and was written as a response to the pop culture and politics of the time.
Josh Lakatos, one of Winnipeg’s self-proclaimed biggest Green Day fans, has loved the band since his childhood when his older brother would play the music around the house.
“I learned guitar just because they were my favourite band,” Lakatos says. “I just think (Billie Joe Armstrong) is a really good songwriter. He writes really simple music, obviously, but it’s just catchy.”
As he got older, he started to pay more attention to the content of Green Day’s songs. Originally, he was only listening for the melodies, he says.
Living in the world as an adult and making contributions to society helped Lakotas pick up on themes in Armstrong’s lyrics.
“I see what the world actually is compared to just being a kid living at home,” he says.
The musical follows a cast of mostly men through their dissatisfaction living in suburbia.
“American Idiot is about a community of young, lost, confused and frustrated Americans who are all looking for their place in the country and what they really stand for,” Sy says.
The lead character is Johnny who, in the Broadway presentation of the musical, bears a resemblance to Armstrong.
“(Johnny) has this epiphany that the world and the generation in which he lives is not the one he wants. And so, he makes a move from his small town, the suburbia, to the big city where he meets new people who open up different worlds to him,” Sy says.
Lakatos says he first heard about the musical when it came out in 2009 and is definitely going to see Winnipeg Studio Theatre’s production.
“I’d love to see it. I thought it was really cool that it’s actually coming to Winnipeg,” he says.
Though he is emotionally attached to the original music, he doesn’t think that will hinder his enjoyment of the show.
“I am such a big fan of Billie Joe, so I guess I’d be a little bit critical if I heard someone else singing his songs ’cause it’s never as good as him singing it,” Lakotas says. “But I think, overall, it’d be interesting just to see how they tell the story.”
Sy says although some of the musical’s content is not appropriate for young audiences (the event is 14-plus), she feels American Idiot speaks volumes on the current political climate in the United States.
This is an opportunity to express confusion and frustration through art while opening up communication, she says.
American Idiot runs Feb. 23 to March 5 at Winnipeg Studio Theatre. For more info, go to winnipegstudiotheatre.com.
Published in Volume 71, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 2, 2017)