In 2004, Green Day, a beloved band whose members include Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, released a concept album titled American Idiot. Inspired by previous concept albums by bands like The Who, American Idiot was a rock opera that loosely followed the story of the “Jesus of Suburbia,” a disaffected, suburban twenty-something who is desperate to find his place in the world. The album was an instant sensation, selling 267,000 copies within its first week, and, since then, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Reviews for the album were generally positive and it was named “Best Rock Album of the Year” at the 2005 Grammy Awards; one of the songs on the album (also featured in the musical), “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” also received the Grammy for “Best Record of the Year” in 2006.
Following director Michael Mayer’s success with the musical Spring Awakening in 2007, he, along with producer Tom Hulce, approached Green Day about adapting their album into a musical. The band met with Mayer and Hulce in New York for two workshops, where they collaborated with orchestrator Tom Kitt and choreographer Stephen Hoggett, who would remain with the project through its Broadway premiere. After the two workshops, Green Day approved plans for a full-scale musical production.
The first production of American Idiot, the musical, opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre on September 15, 2009. It was directed by Mayer, and the cast included John Gallagher Jr. (Johnny), Michael Esper (Will), Matt Caplan (Tunny), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatshername), Tony Vincent (St. Jimmy), Mary Faber (Heather), and Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous). The loose plot of the initial album was expanded and clarified; in addition to a number of songs from the American Idiot album, the musical score also featured songs from Green Day’s newest album, 21st Century Breakdown, and previously unreleased tracks.
Berkeley Rep’s production transferred to Broadway, where it opened at the St. James Theatre on April 20, 2010. The bulk of the Berkeley cast moved with the production; only the role of Tunny was recast, with Stark Sands taking on the role in the Broadway production. The production received mixed reviews, but Charles Isherwood of the New York Times raved: “The show is as invigorating and ultimately as moving as anything I’ve seen on Broadway this season. Or maybe for a few seasons past.” At the 2010 Tony Awards, American Idiot received three nominations: Best Musical, Best Set Design, and Best Lighting Design, and took home the prize in the latter two categories. It also won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. Over the course of the run, Green Day front-man Billie Joe Armstrong often took over the role of St. Jimmy. A documentary, Broadway Idiot, was made about the process of bringing the musical to Broadway, and focused in particular on Armstrong’s experience writing the music and then joining the cast. The Broadway production closed on April 24, 2011.