'American Idiot' tour comes to Tampa's Straz Center

The musical built around a Green Day album is set for five shows this weekend

mclear@bradenton.comMay 16, 2013 

There was a time when Broadway shows spawned hit records. Now it's often the other way around.

From "The Who's Tommy" to juke box musicals based on songs by the likes of Ellie Greenwich, Lieber and Stoller and Abba, Broadway has increasingly turned to hit music to try to ensure hit musicals over the past 20 years.

Still, punk music and Broadway seemed antithetical until the success of "American Idiot," which is based on the Green Day album. It's coming to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa for a three-day, five-show run beginning Friday.

A lot of people were surprised the show didn't win the Tony for best musical in 2011. Some Broadway followers thought it was the best new musical in years.

"It's a very visceral show about three young men who are trying to escape from their lives in the suburbs," said Evan Jay Newman, music director for the current tour. "The album itself, when Green Day released it in September 2004, they always intended for it to be a stage show or a film."

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong worked closely on the transformation of his material from disc to stage. He's listed as the co-book writer with Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer, who's best known for "Spring Awakening" on Broadway.

The result is a show with the volume and energy of a punk concert, and a storyline that adheres closely to the album. So the book and music ought to appeal to Green Day fans.

"I really love touring with this show," Newman said. "I love the music, first of all. And we're an on-stage band, which is fun because we're encouraged to participate."

All songs from the "American Idiot" album are included in the show, as are a few from other Green Day albums. The on-stage band consists of two guitarists, a bassist, a cellist, a drummer, and Newman on keyboards and accordion. There are also some tracked strings. Newman said the arrangements allow the band to re-create the sound and spirit of Green Day's music.

One criticism leveled at this U.S. tour, which started last fall, is the cast is made up of less experienced, non-Equity actors.

Newman said he is surprised by that particular objection.

"To me, that's nothing but a positive," he said. "There's a youthful energy that comes from everybody in the cast."

Details: May 17-19, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $44.50 plus service charge and up. Information: 813-229-7827 or www.strazcenter.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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