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A musical sensation

American Idiot comes to Lakewood Playhouse

American Idiot poster designed by James Stowe. Photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse

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American Idiot the musical was a sensation when it premiered in 2009 (and subsequently moved to Broadway in 2010). Based on the smash hit album by Green Day, the play featured all the music from the album plus Green Day songs from the album 21st Century Breakdown and "When It's Time," a song written for the musical. The book was written by Michael Mayer and Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong with lyrics by Armstrong. It was nominated for a Best Musical Tony Award.

Watch out, South Sound, American Idiot is coming to Lakewood Playhouse in January 2018 as part of the Playhouse's famed (shall I say notorious?) "Outside the (musical) Box" series whereby once in each season they take a chance on something that likely won't appeal to typical community theater audiences. In the beginning, the shows that were produced under this label were hard-hitting dramas. Playhouse Artistic Director John Munn described them as "newer or challenging plays that weren't typically produced at the Playhouse or at other theaters in the area," such as the previous "Outside the Box" show Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. Munn says that two seasons ago they decided they had been producing the plays with the "Outside the Box" title long enough and no longer needed to identify them as something different. "By shifting it to musicals, we felt that our audiences would immediately understand what it was we were trying to do with those shows. We started with Avenue Q, then The Rocky Horror Show, and now American Idiot."

More music than dialogue, American Idiot tells the stories of three "idiots" determined to escape the boredom of their small-town lives. Johnny (Mark Alford) goes to New York to become a musician, Tunny (Ton Williams) joins the military and is shipped to Iraq, and Will (Cameron Waters) stays home to be with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Kiana Norman-Slack).

Alford explains that Johnny and Tunny "flee a stifling suburban lifestyle and parental restrictions," while Johnny and Tunny "look for meaning in life and try out the freedom and excitement of the city. Tunny quickly gives up on life" and Johnny "turns to drugs and finds a part of himself that he grows to dislike, has a relationship and experiences lost love."

He says all three characters struggle to find fulfillment. "Watching them try to find it is sad, hilarious and angering, but most of all it's relatable."

The Lakewood Playhouse production will be directed by Munn, with musical direction by Deborah Lynn Armstrong and choreography by Ashley Roy. It will also be stage managed, a job that is almost never credited by reviewers but which is second in importance only to directing, by Becca Dawn Marsh.

Munn says, "In the Tradition of The Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall comes a rock opera for this generation. An energy-fueled rock opera, American Idiot, features little dialogue and instead relies on the lyrics from Green Day's groundbreaking album to execute the story line. It's about believing that we have to go out into the world to try and change ourselves, when that change can come from within wherever we might be, including the place you call home."

He goes on to say, "We had over 70 incredibly talented people audition. From that we had to narrow it down to 23 talented men and women that were amazing actors, be able to sing pitch-perfect for the difficult harmonies in the show and also be able to dance everything from ballet to K-Pop. In addition to that, some of them have to be able to play their own instruments from guitars to the drums."

Alford says, "I can't say anything about this production without mentioning that the cast and crew are absolutely dynamite. Expect a cast full of dynamic voices, acrobatic choreography and lots of loud music."

Also appearing will be Dani Hobbs, Ashley Roy and Shannon Burch in named roles plus a 15-person ensemble.

This production of American Idiot will be a South Sound Premiere.

American Idiot, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 5-28, 2018, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd, Lakewood, $20-$26, 253.588.0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org

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