The documentary Broadway Idiot is less about the process of turning Green Day's smash-hit concept album American Idiot into a Broadway musical and more a poignant portrayal of Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's journey from the big stages of rock-n-roll to the scary, unknown realm of musical theater. Often heartbreaking, Armstrong and director Michael Mayer approached this unlikely collaboration with an honesty so extensive, it's impossible not to root for their success, for no other reason than because it is so inspiring.
"We don't know what to call it. It's not an opera really... so I don't know how it's going to go down," Mayer described the musical prior to its Broadway debut, exhibiting an uncertain vulnerability that contradicted all the hype and marketing, but what resonated for me the most in this documentary was the vulnerability in Armstrong himself. Normally cocky and self-assured onstage with his band when Green Day is performing to thousands of fans on any given night, to see this side of him as he learns the ropes of theater performance as a newbie is the gift of having a front row seat to his blossoming, to the place he found by accident where it was obvious to everyone he truly thrived.
Speaking about the positive support system so different from the competitive eat-their-young mentality of the music and film industries, nothing emphasized this more than in the candid interview where he described the effect becoming part of this musical had on him after his experience of the early days when he was learning the ropes in the music industry, "In the old days, coming from sort of an underground scene, there was a lot of bands that you would watch that were your friends' bands and things like that. You know, everyone would sort of feed off each other and have fun, but at the same time be learning. Once Green Day took off, we started losing that. We were losing friends. Which is fine. You only need a few... It just became difficult to sort of find kindred spirits... It didn't happen in rock-n-roll. It happened in theater. That's the thing that blindsided me."
"You only need a few" sums up the pain that rejection in the early days caused him, compared to the discovery of the kindred spirits he found when he embraced the passion and "seductive and inspiring" bug of the theater. Billie Joe Armstrong had been bitten and watching him onstage in the role of St. Jimmy was magic. Describing St. Jimmy as a "part of myself," Armstrong reveals that all the characters in one way or another were part of the whole of his entire life experience. From the unexpected and unplanned family in his late teens, early 20s that forced him to grow up, to the demons in his addictions he portrays in St. Jimmy, to his coming of age amid the rock-n-roll scene, Armstrong gives a little bit of himself in every facet of the storyline. When he said "This album is my baby, so I wanna make sure nobody fucks it up," it's apparent he isn't speaking from the ego of a rock star.
Broadway Idiot is screening in San Francisco from Friday, October 18th through October 24th at The Vogue, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who wants behind-the-scenes access to the imperfections and inspirations of the creative process, where egos and individual agendas are checked at the door in lieu of a collaboration of kindred spirits intent on creating art, and the outcome is merely an afterthought.
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