Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m a huge sucker for Broadway documentaries. From the great PBS documentary Broadway or Bust that aired last year to In The Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams or One Night Stand (about the 24-hour musical), I gladly watch any doc that deals with theatre.
I’ll even watch one about a musical that I didn’t like.
I’ve seen American Idiot on Broadway and the touring production earlier this year and both times I walked away with a big shrug. The actors in the Broadway production were great (the touring production were just OK) and the music is freaking phenomenal but the story just stinks. It’s full of energy and the set is total eye-candy but if you don’t have a story to hook the audience, you lost me.
That’s not at all the case with Broadway Idiot, director Doug Hamilton‘s chronicling of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and American Idiot director Michael Mayer‘s quest to turn the bands album into a Broadway musical.
When we first see Armstrong, he looks into the camera and asks, “What the fuck am I doing here?” And at first, you think the same thing. Why is a guy who fronts one of the biggest and most popular bands in the world doing this? But, as the film states, Armstrong was brought up on musicals. He even took singing lessons when he was a kid, hiding it from his friends because he didn’t think they’d think it was cool.
The film starts off with one of the first meetings Mayer had with Armstrong and the band about putting a musical together based on their album. It then follows the whole process of songwriting, rehearsals, out of town tryouts at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and eventually moving the show to New York City.
And all of it is just wonderful to watch.
People being creative, even when it’s on film, can fuel you and watching everyone – the cast, director and Armstrong – collaborate and work together was just pure fuel.
Armstrong even says so himself. Before he started working on the show, he was fed up with the ‘every man for himself’ attitude of rock-n-roll. After working in theatre, he said his creative juices were back to where they should be.
One great scene is when Mayer, who at least according to the film, is the driving force in getting the show made has to present Armstrong and the band the orchestrations of the songs. He’s “terrified” because he has to get the approval from Green Day or else the show is a no go. The cast starts to sing and Armstrong’s face lights up and you can even see some tears in his eyes. It’s a touching moment and one of the best parts of the film.
We get to see tons of rehearsal footage of the original cast, interviews (including John Gallagher, Jr. now starring in HBO’s The Newsroom and the excellent film, Short Term 12), how the cast changes from San Fransisco to New York and even better… we get to watch some of these young actors reach their Broadway dreams.
This is a must watch for any fan of Green Day and Broadway.