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After long wait, Green Day musical comes to local stage

IMTF taking on show derived from iconic punk album

"American Idiot" opens at Arena Dinner Theatre on Sept. 22.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 21, 2022

Andrew Sherman is a theater director on a mission. 

Starting with a program for high school students, Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre, in 2019, Sherman founded the Indiana Musical Theatre Foundation to produce shows by and for adults. In addition to the perennial favorite Les Misérables, Sherman and his team were ecstatic that the rock opera they always wanted to do, Green Day’s American Idiot, which opened in 2010, was finally available for local theater companies to license.

Then came the pandemic. They were able to stage Les Misérables in 2021 to great success, but they had to cancel American Idiot when their intended venue was sold. Now, more than two years later, it’s back on, opening Thursday, Sept. 22, and running for seven shows at Arena Dinner Theatre.

Generational musical

The punk rock trio Green Day’s magnum opus, the 2004 album American Idiot, is deeply beloved by its generation and won the Best Rock Album Grammy. Along with songs from their 2009 album, 21st Century Breakdown, and  voices and instruments arranged by Tom Kitt, the musical became a full-blown opera on Broadway. 

“It’s set in 2002-2004, in the time frame when we have just come off of a terrorist attack, and we are all being called by our government to conform and support and get behind this war,” Sherman said. “Young adults were all being told, ‘We have got to go to war, we’ve got to do this.’ And (American Idiot) was like, no, we don’t.”

In American Idiot, three young men deeply disaffected and disenfranchised by life are determined to strike out from suburbia for the big city, but immediately get separated: one becomes a father and stays at home in despair, and another joins the Army and fights in Iraq. Only one makes it to the city, but while he thinks he’s leading a life of glorious rebellion, he’s only deluding himself with hard drugs. It’s a tragedy, but the men and their women all pull through at the end and find the means to carry on, mostly apart.

Timely story

Today, Sherman sees a relevance that nobody could realize in 2019. 

“I’ll be 100 percent honest with you,” he said. “I jumped at the opportunity to do American Idiot because I love Green Day, and I just wanted to rock out with something different.

“The themes of this show are just as much accepted and approachable today because we have just seen our entire country go through, excuse my French, hell, coming through the other side of the pandemic.

“For my lifetime, I’m getting ready to turn 30. Up until COVID, the biggest world event that had happened was 9/11. So, me growing up was all about how our country had that big ‘come together’ right after it happened. But then our country had such a divide, and we are seeing the same thing coming out of COVID.”

Getting into character

The cast, all locals aged 18-35, ranges from newcomers to veteran actors, with the lead role of Johnny being played by Adam Cesarz, a member of the local bands Cougar Hunter and Thematic. 

Also starring in the musical are Caleb Curtis, Jayden Cano, Aaron Mann, Lee Martin, Chrissy Weadick, and Cassie Rentfrow. The chorus is 13 strong, and there’s a five-piece rock band on stage. 

It’s hard rock, but like any opera, the story is told by acting and dancing as much as by the lyrics. 

“It is a very physically demanding show,” Sherman said. 

The songs are belted out hard over the band, right in the face of the audience. Every cast member dances as well as sings, keeping choreographers Britney Lombardo and Desiree Jackson on their toes. 

“It’s not one of those shows where any of the choreography is sweet or cute,” Sherman said. “It’s all very rugged.”

But it’s not the hard rock and challenging choreography that makes this show difficult to direct and to act, it’s the subject matter, which people growing up through the 9/11 generation can relate to.

“I’m trying to direct actors on how to — you can’t teach grief and mourning,” Sherman said. “You can’t teach when a person goes through an addiction. You’ve got to relate what this character is going through to something that you might have gone through in life, and we have to be able to see that emotion.

“Some of it pertains to unwanted pregnancy early in life. It pertains to some physical abuse.

“This is where you have a mental breakdown,” Sherman added. “It’s then getting out of the way of our actors and letting them have the creative freedom of what they would consider that character’s mental breakdown to look like.

“It has been an experience to watch these actors … really dive into it and portray it as their characters on stage.”

Again, it resonates with Les Misérables. 

“All of the themes of Les Misérables deal with heartbreak, grief, and perseverance,” Sherman said. In 2021, “it related itself to what we had all just been through over the past year. This relates in the same way. Only it’s a little bit more in your face. It’s riskier.”

The Arena Dinner Theatre tables will be removed and no dinner served. There are 115 seats, so it’s going to be intimate and loud. Sherman stresses this show is rated R, for depictions of hard drug use, strong sexual situations, and foul language. 

“If you want to bring your 16-year-old, because you’ve raised them listening to Green Day, I encourage you to, but please note that there is a rating here for a reason,” he said. “It deals with some heavy stuff!”

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