You're the One That I'll Grudgingly Accept...

My friends and fellow New Liners Todd and Brian have this ritual after seeing a piece of theatre. They call it "Roses and Thorns." The rule is you have to say what you liked about the show (the roses) first, and only after that can you say what you didn't like (the thorns).

So consider this my "Roses and Thorns" for Grease: Live! on Fox. Keep in mind, I love Grease deeply. I love the film, but I love the show – the original show as it first opened on Broadway – so much more. I've done the show three times, in 1981, 1986, and in 2007 for New Line. Our 2007 production put all the obscenities back. And then I wrote a long chapter about it in my last book, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals.

So I have strong feelings about Grease. It will always be one of my all-time favorite musicals. So with that in mind...


First, I gotta give props to Fox for doing Grease instead of something lame like Peter Pan (am I the only one who hates that damn show?).

Second, the whole thing was much better than I expected, though I wish they had adapted the show instead of remaking the movie. The cast was great, except for the creepy older uncle playing Danny Zuko and the mindless automaton playing Sandy. Sandy is not bland!

The energy was insane and the camera work was the best I've ever seen in a filmed musical. The use of a choreographed, almost-never-still stedicam (which reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movie musicals, Absolute Beginners) gave the whole thing an energy like I've never seen before. And the choices both to have a live audience on so many of the big sets and not to try to hide them, also really amped up the energy. "Born to Hand Jive" was beyond thrilling, in the performances, the choreography, and the camera work.

I also loved the convention of cutting to Mario Lopez backstage before commercials, seeing the actors run past, hearing the live audience cheering, and the lengthy stage curtain call at the end! Very cool, very high energy, and I can't help but think how magical that "staginess" in particular must be for all those drama kids out there...

I'm also very happy they put "Freddie My Love" and "Magic Changes" back, though I'll always miss "Alone at the Drive-In" and "All Choked Up," both so superior to their replacements.

Now, there was one thing about it that's kind of a personal "rose" but an artistic "thorn." What was up with the end of "Those Magic Changes," the song about puberty and rock and roll, when Danny and Doody meet in the middle of the gym, singing to each other, gazing into each other's eyes, singing about falling in love to rock and roll – "My heart arranges those magic changes...!" – and then Danny places his hand tenderly on Doody's shoulder. And I'm thinking, hell yeah, I could fall in love with Aaron Tveit in those gym shorts too, but really, folks, neither Danny nor Doody are gay...! WTF?


Given that I gave some props to Fox for doing Grease in the first place, I also have to ask: why do people keep trying to make Grease family-friendly? The Muny does it too. Grease is a story about how cars and rock & roll changed sex in America. No matter how you censor it, it's not family friendly. It will always be about a bunch of high school kids trying to get laid. It doesn't matter what individual words you take out of "Greased Lightning" (and what the fuck is a "real draggin' wagon"?) – it's still about getting laid.

And BTW, who was the genius censor who decided "flog your log" was okay, but not "fongool" or "lacy lingerie"...? They also left in “Did she put up a fight?” in "Summer Nights." Think about that one, Fox...

My biggest thorn was the two leads. Maybe Aaron Tveit could have played Danny's father, but he just looked too much older than any of the other "kids." It felt creepy. And Sandy was just bland and empty. Why on earth would Danny want her for more than a quick tumble? That's not how Sandy was originally written. In the show Sandy starts a fist fight with Rizzo in the park. At the end of the show, Danny wonders if Sandy's still mad at him and if she still wants his ring, and she replies with, "Nah, fuck it." That's an interesting Sandy. This one on TV was not, whether that's the fault of the writers, the actor, or the director I won't speculate.

Also, if you're actually going to name the chords you're playing in the lyric to the song, as in "Those Magic Changes," you should not lower the key so you can hit the high notes. They moved the song down a third to A major. (I guess singing "A-A-A, A-A-A, F-sharp-F-sharp-F-sharp, F-sharp-minor" just doesn't scan very well...) And sure, shows transpose songs for actors all the time, right? Yes, but in this case, changing the singer from a tenor to a baritone short-circuits the joke at the center of the song – "those magic changes" are both the four chords that underpin so much early rock and roll, and also the physical changes of puberty. By lowering the song, they fucked that up.

And then there was the New Song, "All I Need is an Angel," by the usually genius team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then). But I have to ask, what the fuck?

First, it's a great pop song, but it's not a musical theatre song; it delivers zero information about story, character, or the show's central themes. And the music's not even close to period (then again, neither are "Hopelessly Devoted" or "You're the One That I Want"). The story does not need or want this song. I have to quote this oddly generic lyric:
So what now? Am I through?
Oh, won't someone tell me what to do?
Where to go? Who to be?
How to find the right way back to me?
Sunny day, won't you finally come my way?
If I stay so brave til then?
Will I find my way again?

Cause all I need is an angel
I'll take a friend or a stranger
Yeah, all I need is an angel here tonight
Who will say it's all alright

So what now? Now I see
I may not be the girl I dreamed I'd be
Who will help fight this fear?
Who will show me where to go from here?
I will mind, I will find the life I find
If I only have my guide
And together we will ride

Cause all I need is an angel
I'll take a friend or a stranger
Yeah, all I need is an angel here today
Who will help me find my way
One angel, please
With a sense of fashion
One angel, please
With a bit of passion
One angel who will guide me through

All I need is an angel
I'll take a friend or a stranger
All I need is an angel here with me
Come on, let me see my angel
To help me through all the changes

All I need is an angel
I'll be fine who an angel who's all mine
Won't you send me down a sign?
And an angel who's all mine

I'll say it again, what the fuck? In Grease? Are you kidding me? Does this sound like any other song in the show? Or even in the film? In addition to the fact that it gives Frenchy, who's already a very cool character, way too much self-awareness and confidence. She's a working class, relatively uneducated teenager, not a Disney princess. Ack.

I hate that both the movie and this adaptation don't understand something really basic about Grease – the Greasers aren't actually cool and they're not a real gang. On stage, they're not the T-Birds, just the Burger Palace Boys, i.e., the guys who hang out at the Burger Palace. They're dorks, misfits, outcasts.

Also, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" and the reprise of "Sandra Dee" are companion pieces. They are meant to go together. Sandy learns something from Rizzo's song about authenticity, and that leads her to her decision in the "Sandra Dee" reprise, which leads to the final scene. You destroy that really interesting and surprising connection between these women when you put a drag race in between those songs.

Now I also have to say, despite my thorns, it was a very good production of a very good show, one that most young people will probably love. Yes, it was emasculated, but if that means more people loving rock musicals, and good ratings (over 12 million viewers) which will mean more live musicals on national television, then I'll grudgingly accept it.

Maybe I need to think about this Grease the way I think about High School Musical. I was surprised at how good HSM was in many respects, and I recognized that it really wasn't made for me. For its intended audience it was pretty great. And in fact, when I was a gay high school drama kid, I probably would have loved it. (And I would have fallen in love with Ryan.)

This wasn't really a Grease for me. This wasn't the Grease that held the long-run record for so many years. As far as I'm concerned Greased Lightning is a pussy wagon, not a draggin' wagon. But this was an acceptable Grease for what it was, and I really did enjoy some of it immensely.

I guess, if I rate it in terms of what Grease was originally meant to be, I'd give it 7 out of 10. It was sanitized, and I wish it used more of the stage songs, but it was also very good in so many ways. If I rate it in terms of a remake of the movie, I'd give it a 9. (I would have given it a 10 if not for that bizarre new song.) If I rate it in terms of being a translation of Grease into a family-friendly broadcast for millions of people, I'll give it a 10.

There's just so much right about it, that I can't dismiss it over the things I didn't like...

And hopefully its success will mean more live musicals on TV.

To my great surprise, after I watched it, I checked my email, and I had a message from a reporter at the Washington Post website, wanting to interview me about what I thought of Grease Live. So I talked to him around midnight, and he wrote a very cool article about the show...

Long Live the Musical!

She Gets So Sick of Crying

When we decided to produce American Idiot, there was one huge question I knew I had to answer. What will we do with the song "Extra­ordinary Girl," during which the original Broadway production had this gorgeous I Dream of Jeannie aerial ballet?

I struggled with this for months. The script says about the song:
The morphine has kicked in. Tunny begins to hallucinate. He sees a girl in a burqa, flying in from above. The Extra­ordinary Girl does a flying striptease for Tunny. She looks just like his nurse – if his nurse were Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. Tunny's leg seems to heal itself and he flies up to join her in a midair ballet.

This was very cool in the original production, very trippy, weirdly beautiful. But I knew we couldn't do an aerial ballet. So what would we do in its place? Even after I had blocked the rest of the show, I couldn't figure out this number.

Finally, it hit me. The same thing that hits me during many shows. I was asking the wrong question. The question isn't what do we do instead of what original director Michael Mayer did. The question is what's going on in Tunny's head during this drug trip?

And that freed me.

I was never going to find an acceptable substitute for an aerial ballet, and it was stupid to keep searching, more than anything because that's not my job as a director, to "respond" to other productions. As with every other show, there are no "right" answers. Michael Mayer's answers were beautiful, but those were his answers, for a multi-million dollar production in a big theatre in New York. When I saw it in NYC, I had a great seat, but I was still pretty far from the actors.

I had to find our answers, that matched our approach to the story, for our intensely intimate production in a blackbox theatre with only seven rows of audience.

As much as I loved the original staging of "Extraordinary Girl," now that I was studying the script closely, I realized I didn't totally understand the point of the hallucination. I understood Tunny's need for escape, his weird romanticizing of the Middle East, but how does the I Dream of Jeannie strip-tease connect to the central themes of the show? How did that illustrate the Hero's Journey that Tunny is taking? And the terrible damage the War on Terror has done to him? I think the answer is that this number in the original production primarily revealed character, and in our production it will hopefully do both that and carry through the central theme about the destruction the War on Terror and its authors created.

So I went to Google and started reading about the dreams and hallucinations of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD. Very sobering stuff. It's all about violence and death, committed by them, or witnessed by them, or at least the horrific aftermath of violence witnessed by them. One guy wrote about waking up at night and seeing a young girl drenched in blood sitting on a chair in his bedroom. It happened night after night.

After reading this stuff, I realized that's what we want to communicate to the audience. This is the real damage done to Tunny.

So we're not going to reference Middle East culture in the staging or costumes. Instead we'll show the psychic and moral destruction of war that veterans carry with them forever. We're going to focus on psychedelic images of violence and death, and lots of blood, but in dark, weird, psychedelic lighting, so it's hard to see exactly what you're looking at; and we'll let the music alone add the subconscious influence of the Middle East on Tunny's bloody delusions. In creepy counterpoint to all that will be the song's lyric, suggesting this meeting of two fucked-up misfits, who recognize in each other a damaged but kindred soul. Neither feels like they belong in this world, but finding someone else who feels that way is powerful.

Except they can't stay together... Because she's not real...

In the original production, the staging for this song was a kind of haunting, visual-poetic parallel to the lyric. In our production, the staging will be a disturbing, dissonant counterpoint, suggesting that Tunny can never again separate violence and death from the rest of life. Now, even love and desire are over-shadowed, tainted, by death. And Tunny can't even see how damaged he is... or how bloody his new girlfriend is...

He sings, as the drug trip begins...
She's an extraordinary girl
In an ordinary world,
And she can't seem to get away.

Tunny can see that they are alike, misfits, outsiders, trapped by circumstances. Maybe she's a mirror of how he sees himself – a hero trapped by fate in a hospital bed. In our staging of this song, more George Romero than Cirque du Soleil, those lines will take on an extra creepy flavor.

She recognizes his pain in herself. She knows how he feels, the impotence, the hopelessness. She sings:
He lacks the courage in his mind,
Like a child left behind,
Like a pet left in the rain.

They're true kindred spirits. Or they would be, if she weren't a product of his hallucination. They feel the same way because they are both Tunny. She knows how he feels because she is him. The rock gets a little harder and Tunny sings:
She's all alone again,
Wiping the tears from her eyes.

We know he's describing himself, alone in his hospital, with a leg missing. She sings:
Some days he feels like dying.

He sings:
She gets so sick of crying.

It's a really effective, poetic way of dramatizing Tunny's desire to separate from unwanted emotions – swapping the lyric between them, giving them each total insight into the other, underlining the fact that this is not the messy terrain of the real world, but an interior, psychological, Fight Club type landscape. Now Tunny, having already split into two (himself and Extraordinary Girl), splits further, into alter-egos for both him and Ex. Girl. Now there are four Tunnys singing. First, his two male voices:
She sees the mirror of herself,
An image she wants to sell,
To anyone willing to buy.

Maybe Tunny is finally realizing that he's been living by other people's measures and expectations, by others' definitions of manhood and patriotism, rather than finding and following his own path. But in the context of our story, we have to wonder if the "she" of this song is also America. This last lyric certainly makes sense in that context. Or is "she" war... or the War on Terror?

Maybe the point is that Extra­ordinary Girl does not show her authentic self to anyone, only what they want to see, or what she needs them to see to get what she wants. She stands in for America under Bush-Cheney, trying to manipulate Tunny (and all of us) instead of leveling with him.

Tunny's two female voices continue:
He steals the image in her kiss,
From her heart's apocalypse,
From the one called Whatsername.

Is this Billie Joe Armstrong's way of telling us that Tunny was seduced by Bush and Cheney's America? Or if she represents war, maybe Tunny was seduced by the John Wayne patriotism of post-9/11 America, seduced by the swagger, fearlessness, and self-righteousness of George W. Bush. On the original album, this song seems much more straight-forward, but here in the show, the mention of Whatsername creates an interesting mashup of characters, subtly blending our lead characters together into a universal whole. Extra­ordinary Girl and Whatsername (notice that neither has a real name) become one. We were all seduced. But we were seduced by phantoms and shadows...

And particularly in the more violent, freaky context our production will create, the phrase "her heart's apocalypse" will take on even heavier resonance.

The song now returns to the two original voices, repeating earlier lyrics, with a subtle change at the end.

Tunny sings:
She's all alone again,
Wiping the tears from her eyes.

Extraordinary Girl sings:
Some days he feels like dying...

Tunny sings:
She gets so sick of crying.

The lyric now feels deeper and more complex than in its first appearance, and we see again the complete empathy and total connection these two feel for each other. They'd be perfect for each other, if she were real, if she weren't a fantasy (extra- or beyond, ordinary), while Tunny is stuck in reality (an ordinary world).

Tunny and Extraordinary Girl sing together for the first time, repeating the more aggressive bridge. As in most musicals, we know they belong together because they harmonize.
She's all alone again,
Wiping the tears from her eyes.
Some days he feels like dying,
Some days it's not worth trying,
Now that they both are finding...

Tunny sings alone:
She gets so sick of crying.

They're both struggling along the road of life, but at least now they can struggle together. Except she's not real. And as the hallucination ends, the ensemble repeats the title line:
She's an extraordinary girl...
An extraordinary girl...
An extraordinary girl...
An extraordinary girl...

After the song, the script says, "The Extra­ordinary Girl brings Tunny back to his gurney and flies away into space. He is left with the other soldiers in agony." The song segues directly into a reprise of "Before the Lobotomy," as Tunny and three men sing, "Dreaming, I was only dreaming..."

But we're left to wonder, do Tunny and the others mean that they were dreaming just now, or have they awakened from the dark seduction of the war mongers, just as Johnny has to wake up from the dark seduction of sex and drugs.

American Idiot is a story about waking up. The dramatic climax for these characters, the moment they decide to engage their lives, is in the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends," at the end of which Johnny says to himself – or is it to us? – "Time to wake up."

Waking up represents both the coming to self-awareness and knowledge that they have to grow up, and also the ability to see through the bullshit and manipulation of mainstream society. As in The Matrix, waking up is about seeing the truth you couldn't see before, the truth that most other people can't see.

American Idiot is an intelligent, sophisticated, subversive, thoughtful piece of theatre, set to the only kind of music that could express the size of the rage and love in this story, authentic contemporary punk.

Thinking about the song "Extra­ordinary Girl" reminds me of the song "Extra­ordinary," one of my favorites from Pippin. In both songs, our heroes are convinced they are extraordinary, different, darker, and more complex than the rest of us. But they both learn later that everybody feels that way at some point, that the truly extra­ordinary path is to embrace your own ordinary life, to find richness in the world as it is.

There's a reason that these are the last words the show leaves us with:
It's something unpredictable, but in the end is right;
I hope you had the time of your life.

On stage, that last line being in the second person really packs a wallop. At the end of the show, the audience has had the "time of their life" because they've just witnessed a triple Hero Myth, and a Hero Myth is just a human life in miniature. The audience has literally had the time of their lives. So when the cast sings "you," they mean you. And the first of these last two lines here also takes on extra resonance when it's put in this context. Now, as an epilogue, it comments on the Hero Myth stories we've just experienced. Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics are so relentlessly truthful – life is unpredictable, but if you stay on your path, it will turn out right in the end.

This is such a powerful, truthful, well-crafted piece of theatre. I can't wait to share it with you.

Long Live the Musical!

Throw Up Your Arms

In Billie Joe Armstrong's lyric for the song "Know Your Enemy?" in American Idiot, the drug dealer St. Jimmy, Johnny's "dark half" alter-ago, tries to tell Johnny that he is his own worst enemy, that only he is standing in his way. This starts a sequence of songs tracking the descent of our three heroes to rock bottom.

"Enemy" segues into "21 Guns," the three women's poignant attempt to reach their men. This is a song about hitting rock bottom, about "letting go and letting God" essentially (just without the god part). The script says at the beginning of the song, "Whatsername decides to make one last plea to Johnny, who is soaring on junk, to embrace the authentic relationship between the two of them rather than the spiraling self-destruction of St. Jimmy and his addiction." She's trying to get him back to reality, to stop searching for escape, to stop struggling against life...

She sings to Johnny:
Do you know what's worth fighting for,
When it's not worth dying for?

That's some intense shit, especially right off the bat in the first two lines. In other words, she's saying, do you have the ability to recognize what is valuable enough to fight for, but not valuable enough to die for? Is the search for that answer frustrating and confusing? Does the weight of that question overwhelm you? Can you even draw that line? Are you too far gone? Or, as the lyric asks:
Does it take your breath away,
And you feel yourself suffocating?
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?
Did someone break your heart inside?
You're in ruins.

What a powerful description of the spiritually lost Johnny, Tunny, and Will. You're in ruins. Ruins can't be restored. You have to start over from scratch. Ruins is certainly rock bottom. The post-9/11 years left a generation, if not a country, in spiritual ruins.

But it's often only when a person reaches rock bottom that they can climb back, only when they are in ruins, only when ego and pride have been broken down.

Extraordinary Girl pleads with Tunny to stop struggling against life:
One, twenty-one guns,
Lay down your arms,
Give up the fight.
One, twenty one guns,
Throw up your arms into the sky,
You and I.

The lyric works on both a concrete and metaphorical level, all at once. She's asking him literally not to go back out on the battlefield, but also to stop struggling against his own life. Green Day fans all seem to agree that the first line of the chorus has to do with military funerals. This is because Billie Joe Armstrong said in an interview, "It brings up 21st Century Breakdown in a lot of ways, and the 21-gun salute for someone that's fallen, but done in an arena rock 'n' roll sort of way." And here in the show, she's singing to a wounded soldier.

But according to Wikipedia,
In 1842, the United States declared the 21-gun salute as its Presidential Salute. . . the U.S. Navy full-dresses ships and fires 21 guns at noon on 4 July, as well as on Presidents' Day. On Memorial Day, batteries on military installations fire a 21-gun salute to the nation's fallen. . .

Today, a 21-gun salute is rendered on the arrival and departure of the President of the United States. . . A 21-gun salute is also rendered to former U.S. Presidents, foreign Heads of State (or members of a reigning royal family), as well as to Presidents-elect. . . A gun salute is not to be confused with the three-volley salute often rendered at military funerals.

Of course, what matters here is what Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer meant by this lyric, more than what Wikipedia says. Maybe in this context it's a remembrance of the part of Tunny he left behind on the battlefield with his leg. The plea is a literal one, to lay down actual arms, to give up an actual fight, but it stands as a metaphor for all three of our battered heroes.

There's an obvious reference here to this new, already bloody, 21st century, the nightmare forest of the title of the song's album, 21st Century Breakdown. Maybe "21 guns" also refers to 21 centuries of bloody human wars, implying both that humans must learn to stop settling conflict with arms, and also that Johnny and Will and Tunny must face life as it is, and stop trying to escape this world in which they feel like outsiders, like The Others, strangers in a strange land.

Their curse is our national curse, fear of the chaos of life, and confusion in the topsy-turvy world of post-9/11 upside-down, Orwellian logic. But living is about embracing the chaos of life, not running or hiding from it, not raging against it or trying to control it. They don't know it, but these women are trying to teach these men how to be Zen. But these men are deeply damaged and lost, and comforting words aren't gonna cut it...

Tunny sings:
When you're at the end of the road,
And you lost all sense of control,
And your thoughts have taken their toll,
When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul...

He's in a very dark place, where the terrible truth of the world has shattered him, where what he knows ("your mind") has destroyed what he believed ("the spirit of your soul"), a place where the outer lives of these three men have crushed their inner lives. Now all three men are singing, soon joined by all three women:
Your faith walks on broken glass,
And the hangover doesn't pass,
Nothing's ever built to last,
You're in ruins.

Talk about vivid images! The phrase, "Your faith walks on broken glass," may be a dense, complicated metaphor, but the images are so powerful, that you instantly know exactly what it means on a gut level. But think about it – how do you walk on broken glass? Nimbly, carefully, painfully, maybe desperately. Now apply those words to your faith. Add to that a metaphorical "hangover" that lasts forever, lasting pain that forever reminds you of past misdeeds.

They're all in ruins. We're all in ruins.

Tunny and the three women repeat the chorus. Adding Tunny here makes even more obvious the connection between the horrors of literal war and interior psychological war.
One, twenty-one guns,
Lay down your arms,
Give up the fight.
One, twenty-one guns,
Throw up your arms into the sky,
You and I.

The phrase "You and I" is so important. These women are saying to their men, You aren't alone. I'm here with you. You can do this. Whatsername asks of Johnny:
Did you try to live on your own
When you burned down the house and home?
Did you stand too close to the fire?
Like a liar looking for forgiveness from a stone...

In other words, the path he's on is a shitty one. He's stumbling through his life, leaving destruction everywhere he goes, still a selfish, irrational child inside, chasing pleasure and escape rather than enlightenment, and not giving a shit who he hurts in the process. He has to grow up.

(And by the way, can we pause for a second and look at the outstanding craft here? There's alliteration in "try to," "house and home," "Like a lair looking," and "for forgiveness from"... I particularly love "for forgiveness." There's only a little rhyme here, which makes sense for a song so emotional, but there's a beautiful interior rhyme in "...too close to the fire? /  Like a liar...")

Extraordinary Girl sympathizes with Tunny. Maybe she really does understand him. But then again, is she real or just in his head? If she's just in his head, it's not a surprise she understands him. Or maybe it's an even bigger surprise that she does...
When it's time to live and let die,
And you can't get another try,
Something inside this heart has died.
You're in ruins.

And the whole cast sings that last line with her, again, first introducing a situation in the most intimate, personal way, then universalizing it out to the full ensemble, standing in for all of us. This is a plea to all of us, to stop fighting. In this era of fierce, ugly, angry political polarization, it becomes a lesson specific to these three men's journeys, but also one we should all take to heart.
One, twenty one guns
Lay down your arms
Give up the fight
One, twenty one guns
Throw up your arms into the sky,
You and I.

The song ends (not counting the freaky little tag) with everyone on stage singing, "You and I." This is a song – this is a story – about all of us, and our shared experience as Americans.

But significantly, the women can't make these choices for the men. Johnny, Will, and Tunny haven't quite hit rock bottom, and until they do, they can't find themselves again. They're going through a necessary part of the Hero's Journey, traveling to the "Underworld" to meet and do battle with their own dark sides (like Luke Skywalker on Dagobah).

Just a few songs later, in "Wake Me Up When September Ends," now the three men have hit rock bottom, and only now can their new, more adult, more self-aware selves ("becoming who we are") be born out of the destruction of their child selves (literalized by Tunny's lost leg).

As the song begins, Johnny has just lost Whatsername, and he sings:
Summer has come and passed;
The innocent can never last.
Wake me up when September ends.
Like my father's come to pass,
Seven years has gone so fast.
Wake me up when September ends.

Billie Joe Armstrong originally wrote this song about his father, who died of cancer in September 1982, when Armstrong was still a kid. At his father’s funeral, Billie cried, ran home and locked himself in his room. When his mother got home and knocked on the door to Billie’s room, he simply said, "Wake me up when September ends." Seven years later, Armstrong formed a band which would later become Green Day.

It's an interesting lyric because it expresses both the desire to hide from the horrors of life, but also the understanding that the darkness will end. September will end. In the context of our show (and arguably, even on the album), September also comes to represent the 9/11 attacks, all the anniversaries of those attacks, the ugly politicization of those attacks, and the culture of paranoia and lies that was born from the attacks.

Our three main characters are finally coming to an adult understanding of the world. They are growing up. Bad shit happens. You have to continually meet that challenge. But those challenges shape you and make you the person you become. You can't become a fully formed adult without all the bad shit that has helped shape you.

Will sings:
Here comes the rain again,
Falling from the stars...

Tunny – significantly, "fitted with a new prosthetic leg" – sings:
Drenched in my pain again,
Becoming who we are.

The three sing, first individually, then together:
As my memory rests,
But never forgets,
What I lost,
Wake me up when September ends.
Summer has come and passed;
The innocent can never last.
Wake me up when September ends.

They are becoming different people. They are becoming who they really are. They continue, but now in much more hopeful imagery about rebirth:
Ring out the bells again,
Like we did when spring began.
Wake me up when September ends.

Here, instead of the waking up referencing the horrors from which to be escaped, now waking up looks forward to a new morning, a new beginning, and a new perspective that accepts both the good and parts of life – not because the lyric has changed, but because the context has subtly changed.
Here comes the rain again,
Falling from the stars.
Drenched in my pain again,
Becoming who we are.
As my memory rests,
But never forgets what I lost,
Wake me up when September ends.

Even though this is a lyric that we've already heard, it takes on subtle new meaning here. Once Armstrong introduces the idea of spring and rebirth, this stanza feels more like an acceptance of the yin and yang of life, rather than a struggle against all that.

And significantly, they are putting the pain of their journey ("my memory") aside, with the new understanding that pain is not meant to be escaped from, but learned from. They will "never forget what I lost." And they have gained important knowledge. You can't stay a kid forever. You have to grow up.
Summer has come and passed;
The innocent can never last.
Wake me up when September ends.
Like my father's come to pass,
Twenty years has gone so fast.
Wake me up when September ends.
Wake me up when September ends.
Wake me up when September ends.

When the song ends, there's a single line of dialogue, as Johnny says, "Time to wake up." Exactly.

American Idiot is a fable that teaches us about ourselves both individually and collectively. It teaches us about our times and our reaction to them. But most of all, it teaches us one of the oldest of human lessons – as Bill Finn put it in Spelling Bee, "Life is random and unfair." If life is random, then by definition it can't be fair. To embrace life means to embrace all of life, the good and bad alike, because it's all part of the same whole.

All of it is beautiful and all of it teaches us something. The magic of the Hero Myth is that it's a metaphor for a human life, so any good story based on the Hero Myth model is automatically universal. American Idiot sure is.

So much richness to mine in this amazing show...

Long Live the Musical!

The Rest of Our Lives

I was at the Rep with Sean, one of our newest New Liners (you can follow Sean's vlog here), and we were talking before the performance about American Idiot (Sean's in the show). He knows the Green Day albums really well (I don't), and he was talking about the adaptation from the one form to the other.

As he was talking, I realized that Billie Joe Armstrong had written his own autobiographical Hero Myth story with the American Idiot album, and it seems, also with 21st Breakdown. And what Armstrong and Michael Mayer did was turn that single Hero Myth into three Hero Myths. To do that, a lot of songs that were originally sung by the hero ("Jesus of Suburbia" on the album, Johnny in the show) have been distributed among three "heroes" and the woman in their lives. And the result is that this very personal story has become a collective story, a national story.

Every Hero Myth story is a metaphor for a human life (the struggles, the mentors, the friends, the enemies, the acquired wisdom the journey gives you), and we are the heroes of these stories in American Idiot. This is our history.

And as it should be in this ironic, self-aware, "meta" moment in our history, our heroes seem to know they're off on a Hero's journey. They sing, in "Tales of Another Broken Home":
To live and not to breathe
Is to die in tragedy.
To run, to run away
Is to find what you believe.

Most musicals are either hero myth stories or stories about whether or not the hero will assimilate into the community. Once producing musicals got really expensive in New York in the 1970s, the community stories became less prevalent, because it's easier to make the budget work if there's no chorus. And that focus on the individual matched the culture of the 70s and 80s.

But today in this fractured time, we need stories about communities again, about our collective lives. That's why Rent still speaks so powerfully to us. These new shows are a kind of post-modern community stories. American Idiot is about the struggle not to assimilate into a mainstream culture gone astray. It's still a story about whether or not our heroes will assimilate, but the value of that assimilation is up for debate, unlike older shows. Johnny doesn't assimilate, Will does grudgingly, and Tunny does full-out. But their redemption in the end is learning that each of us must find our own road, even within a community. It's a complex, hybrid story form, and it serves these complex times.

But just as in old-school musical comedies, the community in American Idiot is a character too. Here the community is us, but pointedly not all of us (although, maybe it is "all of us" among the people coming to see American Idiot). Still, even if you've never been Johnny, Tunny, or Will, most people feel like outsiders at one time or another, like the world's going crazy, like we want to just scream.

That's what's at the heart of this show, that deep frustration.

In today's political climate, don't most of us feel pretty fucked over by our government? And maybe also by other institutions, religion, education, the media, family... It's a little disconcerting when I realize how many shows we've done in recent years about the failure of institutions – Heathers, Threepenny, Jerry Springer, Bonnie & Clyde, Hands on a Hardbody, Rent, Night of the Living Dead, Cry-Baby, Passing Strange, bare, Love Kills, Hair, Urinetown, Bat Boy, and others. Obviously, people have been thinking and writing about all this, and clearly it's been in my subconscious if it keeps showing up in our seasons...

It will be fascinating to see how people react to American Idiot right in the middle of this Presidential primary season...

In its early form at Berkeley Rep, American Idiot opened the show with Johnny singing the title song. That makes sense, of course, starting the story by introducing the central protagonist. But before the show transferred to Broadway, the creators realized their mistake.

Yes, this is a story about Johnny, but also Tunny and Will, and their entire generation. And not just them. Now the show opens with various members of the ensemble singing the beginning of the song. Now the song delivers context, not just emotion. Now the song describes a national problem. Now they begin their story with the community, and it instantly becomes universal.

This song – this show – is about all of us!

And when you put a community onstage, you're automatically referencing the community of actors telling this story, the one-night-only community of the this audience on this night, and the larger community of Americans and of humans, of which we're all a part. So American Idiot becomes America's collective Hero Myth, the journey and struggle we all took together. We need that connection right now, as social media is facilitating the splintering of our society, into Us and Them. We need to be reminded sometimes that we're all us.

Or as Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman) put it in I Heart Huckabee's, we're all the blanket.

I didn't directly experience this cultural disaffection in the post-9/11 years, because I was already a cultural rebel by then, the self-monikered "bad boy of musical theatre," and New Line was well into its second decade of alternative, socio-political musical theatre. We'd already produced Assassins twice and Hair twice by then.

On the other hand, I've spent most of my adult life being The Other, whether that was because I'm gay, or artsy, or atheist, or The Smart Kid, or because I was a very vocal musical theatre lover during the Barren Years. And I was always a skeptic. I have vivid memories of high school algebra and geometry classes, when I couldn't accept any mathematical concept until the teacher had proved to me why it was true. I couldn't accept it just on their say-so, but once they proved it, I was fine. I can now see an anti-authoritarian streak in myself, probably because I was born in 1964, right in the middle of the counter-culture revolution. My childhood was spent watching Laugh-In, The Smothers Brothers, All in the Family, Hogan's Heroes, The Monkees, Love American Style, and other iconoclastic TV shows, and listening to the great satirist Tom Lehrer.

My earliest cultural and political influences were all telling me there are no absolutes, and you're on your own figuring it all out, because everything is up for grabs. Luckily, I was a kid and I didn't register the weight of it all. And I became an adult in the 90s, one of the less scary periods in recent history, so I didn't go through what Johnny, Tunny, and Will go through. But I do feel like I'm not that far removed from the disaffected Johnny, that if not for a stable home life and a stable country, I might have traveled his path instead of the one I chose.

I think it's fair to say that everyone who comes to see our show is either Johnny, Tunny, or Will – or they have the potential to be. This is a collective Hero Myth story, our story. We have to examine it and understand it, so we don't repeat it. America doesn't learn fast, but we do learn.

When I first saw American Idiot on Broadway, I thought it was a brilliant, powerful, beautiful piece of theatre. What I know now, working on the show, is that it's also a brilliant social document that so insightfully captures that moment in our history when we lost our collective way. This isn't just exciting theatre; this is important theatre.

Maybe even more important now than ever, in this pivotal election year. The adventure continues.

Long Live the Musical!

We're Not the Ones Meant to Follow

We're done learning the American Idiot score and our cast sounds incredible. Though we do mostly rock musicals these days, we only occasionally do shows with scores that rock this hard. Love Kills did, and Hedwig, and our upcoming Atomic. It's already been such fun, but I must admit, hardcore punk rock doesn't sound that good on rehearsal piano. Just sayin'. I've also worked out the staging for about 90% of the show, so I'm feeling very good about that. We'll see how my staging looks on real people next week, but I think I'm on the right road.

Our overall approach to American Idiot won't be significantly different from Michael Mayer's brilliant original, but we'll be in a much more intimate space – our stage will be only fifteen feet deep and we'll have only seven rows of audience, seating a total of about 140. And that kind of intimacy automatically changes a show fundamentally. Our actors will be as close to our audience as a real punk band would be to its fans in a club. And the anger and aggression will be much more palpable, much more personal.

The only slight flaw I found with the wonderful original production was the cool choreography. It was really great but it didn't feel like it belonged to that story. Punks don't do choreography. And yet, it's such a high-energy show that it demands lots of physicality, like a good rock concert. The solution I came to was twofold. First, I decided not to hire our outstanding resident choreographer Robin this time; I will stage all the movement in the show (no doubt with a hearty assist from Dowdy). Second, I decided I didn't want anything on that stage to ever look like a dance step.

Instead, I've assembled a movement vocabulary of stomping, walking, running, clapping, falling, etc. Now, in all fairness, the original choreography also used moves like these, so my approach isn't revolutionary, just a slightly different, arguably more focused, more authentic path. I'm not saying the choices in the original production were wrong; they were trying to speak to a Broadway audience, including lots of tourists and non-English speakers. But I think our movement will feel more organic to this punk rock fable and its music, and so will our actors.

The more I read about punk rock, and watch documentaries, the more I understand it in a way I haven't before. I had a decent understanding of it, after studying glam and punk while working on both Rocky Horror and Hedwig, but the punk scene was/is much richer and more varied than I thought.

My biggest takeaway this time? The music itself really is just part of it, maybe not even the biggest part of it. This story defines it better than I could...

A guy walks up to Billie Joe Armstrong and asks "What’s Punk?" So Armstrong kicks over a garbage can and says "That’s punk!" So the guy kicks over another garbage can and says "That’s punk?" And Armstrong says "No, that’s trendy.”


It's rebellious, but it's more than just that. It's also personal. It's angry, aggressive, I-Have-No-More-Fucks-To-Give rebellious, but on a very personal level. And its authenticity comes from the fact that the anger is arguably justified and the aggression at least understandable. There are things in the world we should be angry about. The attempted national brainwashing of all of us during the "War on Terror" was something to be angry about.

The Punkers hated New Wave, because that was just Punk without the anger or aggression, just artistic and aesthetic rebellion, rather than social and political rebellion. I will admit that I loved New Wave, I guess because I was a bit of a rebel but not all that angry...

But the more I learn, the more I think about it, the more I'm tempted to say that New Line is Punk. Not all our shows are angry, but some of them are very angry, and almost all of them are quite aggressive. Most of them are artistically, culturally, and/or politically rebellious. I'm not saying New Line is Sex Pistols Punk. More like Talking Heads or David Bowie...

Or Green Day.

After all, the Archbishop of St. Louis tried to close down our show, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, in 2007. He succeeded in shutting down the preview, but we were back open for opening night. That's punk. The Catholic Church is no match for New Line Theatre, the Bad Boy of Musical Theatre.

Surely that, coupled with Jerry Springer the Opera and Bukowsical, qualifies us as at least honorary punks...

Webster's defines punk rock as "rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent." I think that definition is a bit narrow, but it does describe a fair amount of New Line's work. Wikipedia says, "Punk bands typically use short or fast-paced songs, with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic; many bands self-produced recordings and distributed them through informal channels."

That definition excludes Green Day today, although maybe the truth is that Billie Joe Armstrong and his band mates are pushing the boundaries of punk, allowing it to evolve into an even more expressive (or at least more complex) art form. And that's something to celebrate. Or maybe the real truth is that you can't adequately define punk because the whole point of punk rock is to deconstruct rock and roll, to live outside conventional definitions.

After all, how do you describe American Idiot and Green Day's other work? Certainly they are a punk band, by most definitions. But they write incredibly catchy, melodic songs, so are they pop? They also write serious, dense, poetic lyrics, so are they alt pop? They write ballads and pop anthems, but they're about politics, society, drugs, the media, religion, government, all infused with "alienation and social discontent."

Sounds a lot like New Line...

Green Day is definitely punk in their aesthetic, their politics, etc., but they're also much than just rejection and rebellion. American Idiot is a magnificent piece of work, with real depth and insight. It delivers what all great art must – politics, poetry, and popcorn, or in other words, the issues of our times (politics), serious artistic expression (poetry), and pure entertainment (popcorn). In fact, now that I think about it, a lot of contemporary musicals do.

It's so fascinating working on the very political, very anti-establishment, very angry American Idiot during this wild and harrowing primary season. I can't help but see in today's politics so many parallels and mirror images of the post-9/11 years, against which American Idiot is raging.

The biggest, overarching theme I've noticed in common between the two time periods is the use of fear. After 9/11 the nation was plunged into an ear of fear, the fear of violence, sure, but more than anything else, fear of The Other. It was a crazy, fucked up time, and American Idiot captures that moment so insightfully.
Hear the sound of the falling rain,
Coming down like an Armageddon flame;
The shame,
The ones who died without a name.

In the intervening years, between then and now, the country came (partially, from time to time) to its senses, but now it's election season again, there have been a few high profile terrorist attacks, and the GOP is back in the fear business. It's the same as last time – "The end of the world is coming, and only I can save you." Or as Green Day characterizes it...
Zieg heil to the President Gasman!
Bombs away is your punishment!
Pulverize the Eiffel Towers
Who criticize your government!

In American Idiot, Bush is making America considerably scarier for liberals and young people (who tend to be liberal). In 2016, Obama has made the world considerably scarier for conservatives (by making it less scary for The Others). Yet in both periods, it's the Republicans who use fear to win votes. In both periods, Democrats talk about hope and change, but both Bush and Obama delivered on change, and their very different kinds of change scared different kinds of people.

Change terrifies a lot of people, and America is going through some massive changes right now at the turn of the millennium. But we know what Yoda said, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to Trump." Oops, sorry, that last word was supposed to be "suffering"...

Then again, I guess there's an argument to be made that Trump himself is punk...

I'm struck at every rehearsal how much these songs sound like they were written a few months ago, and how much they describe 2016. It will be interesting to see if our audiences find the connections as powerful as I do.

It will also be interesting to see what our audiences think of this punk rock musical, especially in our theatre, as intimate as a punk rock club, though much cleaner and better lit. American Idiot really is punk, but I don't think most people understand punk. I think they'll enjoy finding out.

I bet a lot of people in our New Line audience have a little punk in them.

This experience is already exhilarating.

Long Live the Musical! And Punk!

The Son of Rage and Love

I have to admit, I never ever thought I'd be working on a punk rock musical. I probably never thought such a thing could exist.

But American Idiot really is a punk rock musical, though you'd be making a mistake if you think that means the whole score sounds the same, that it's all loud and aggressive. Some of it is, but there's a great variety within punk, and much of it is not the screaming, racing, distorted, unpolished punk rock stereotype. (Besides, if our singers were screaming all night, they'd blow out their voices.) On the contrary, there are some power ballads in this show that are genuinely beautiful and emotionally potent, "Wake Me Up When September Ends," "21 Guns, " "Boulevard of Broken Dreams, ""Last Night on Earth"...

Just as there was a great variety among the punk artists of the 70s (almost none of whom embraced the label "punk"), so too is there great variety in the score for American Idiot. If you don't know any punk rock, or its more recent cousin, "emo rock," you'll be amazed at how versatile and how expressive it can be.

Maybe a better label for American Idiot is "pop punk" or maybe even "art punk"? Or does that just conjure New Wave? No, Green Day is much more raw, more visceral than that. Maybe it's just another evolution of punk, which has always included elements of pop. The songs of Green Day are far more musical, more melodic, more poetic, more insightful than anything the New York Dolls ever sang. On the other hand, Green Day's more aggressive songs ("American Idiot," "Holiday") share a great deal with their punk ancestors.

It's important to remember that all punk rock isn't about the visceral, primal rage of the Sex Pistols. Some of the punkers are/were real street poets, some very consciously picking up the mantle of the Beat writers, the cultural revolutionaries of the 1950s. America has had "punks" throughout the 20th century, in rebellion against the homogenization of emotional expression and individual experience, the swallowing up of man by the mainstream culture. Backlash was inevitable then as it was in the 70s, in the early 2000s, and again today. When rock and roll was born in the early 1950s, the sound was every bit as raw, as untrained, as rebellious as punk in the 70s.

Rock forms always evolve to challenge the status quo. And there's always an enfant terrible or three who appears at just the right moment to push the music forward. It's a totally natural process of periodic death and rebirth.

I did some research on punk rock artists when we were working on Hedwig, which is really more glam than punk, but it does include a few punk songs ("Tear Me Down," "Exquisite Corpse"), and "Midnight Radio" namechecks several icons of punk. I wanted to understand who those people were that Hedwig saw as her heroes, artists like Nico and Patti Smith.

What I found in my research is that it's not primarily the music itself that defines punk – there's not much in common musically between The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Talking Heads. Instead it's the attitude, the aggressiveness, the rejection of authority, the rejection of mainstream values, the rejection of commercialization, and often real political rage, sometimes overt (as in the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen") and sometimes more subtextual (like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," a companion piece to the title song of American Idiot). But also, punk is about authenticity. As Henry Rollins says, "It only takes one guy to stand up and say Fuck this!" And that's at the heart of punk rock.

And American Idiot.

And New Line Theatre.

Bono says, "You don't start a band to save the world, you know. You really don't. You start a band for all the wrong reasons. Just to make a big fucking noise and roar at the world." And isn't that what American Idiot is, a "roar at the world"? Maybe that's not the "wrong reasons." Maybe raging at the world is how we change it.

American Idiot is a punk musical, or at the very least, a punk-inspired rock musical, though it probably wouldn't do much for ticket sales to sell it that way. Although, I would also argue that much of this score is also emo rock, as is our next show, the rock musical Atomic.

When I saw the original production of American Idiot on Broadway, I loved it. I thought Michael Mayer did a superb job, both in fashioning this triple Hero Myth, but also in staging the show. But I do think Mayer (or maybe it was the producers) made one mistake. The show just had too much Dance in it for me. It was cool, modern dance, not exactly what we're used to seeing on Broadway, and sometimes it was really beautiful, but what does beautiful dance have to do with the rage of punk rock? In my opinion, unison modern dance violates the spirit of what Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day wrote.

The one decision I made early on about this show was that I would not be asking our resident choreographer Robin Berger to stage any of theses songs. I'm doing them all myself (with the help of my co-director Mike Dowdy). I don't want anything on that stage to look like dance or theatre choreography. I want to use stomping, running, lots of "freestyle" headbanging, etc. I want all the movement to look like spontaneous expressions of whatever emotions are in the scene, not "steps," not "moves," just expression.

Now that may be easier said than done. But I think it's the right goal. We should be trying to evoke the punk aesthetic and the punk point of view – the rage and despair that fuels much of this story – not point of view of the New York commercial theatre, with tens of millions of dollars at stake.

Our actors aren't going to throw themselves into the drum set like some of the punk singers did (don't worry Clancy!), but I want to find movement for this show that both communicates what it needs to, in terms of storytelling, but that also comes from the abandon and aggression of punk rock. There's a reason this story is being told with this music. It's the only music that could express these particular feelings. So we want to be as true as we can to Green Day and Armstrong.

The trap that many directors and choreographers get into is the search for a cool move, a cool stage picture, a "showstopper." Once you're thinking about that shit, you will not stage the song well. Instead, I try to figure out what's happening in this song in terms of narrative and character, in terms of over-arching themes, also what might be harder for the audience to understand and how can we make that clearer with movement? Should the movement correspond in a concrete way to the lyric (in some cases, yes), or should the movement be an emotionally expressionistic counterpoint to the lyric? Or maybe the movement should work in opposition to the lyric, to reveal subtext... Or maybe the movement should be background, giving the the singer and lyric context or emotion that might not otherwise be obvious...

It's different for every song, because every song has its own purpose in the story. Still, there should be an overall visual unity to the show just as there is musical and thematic unity. So as I stage these songs, I'll find a vocabulary for this particular production, and then I can give the actors lots of "freestyle" moments because they'll have a vocabulary to work within and build on. If it sounds like I've thought about this a lot, that's because I had a very similar task ahead of me when I staged Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party.

It's not always easy to accomplish all this, but we have a fairly leisurely rehearsal schedule, so if we go down a wrong path, we always have time to switch roads. When we did Evita, I staged "And the Money Kept Rolling In" four times before I liked it. Whenever I get stuck in staging a song, I stop myself, step back, and ask, "What is this about?" That usually puts me back on track. For this show, I will also continually ask myself, Would Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt think my staging feels right?

This is a pretty different kind of show from what we usually produce, though it's not radically different from some shows I've staged for New Line, like Hair, Rent, The Wild Party, and bare. I feel like I understand what makes American Idiot tick, what it's creators intended, and also how directly it speaks to us right now in this election year.

We'll be put to the test in November as a country. Are we American Idiots? Will we let anger and fear guide us, or will we choose a different path? Maybe American Idiot will help us see those paths a little more clearly.

This show could not be more relevant right now. The adventure continues...

Long Live the Musical!

American Idiot

America is a very angry place right. And boy, do we have a show that taps into that zeitgeist and tries to understand it...

I knew nothing about American Idiot when I walked into the Broadway theatre to see it. I had heard of Green Day, but knew none of their songs. All I knew was people loved this show. And I'm a huge rock opera fan, so I figured I would at least enjoy it.

And it fucking bowled me over, from the first song. Who starts a musical with "Don't wanna be an American idiot!" It was like a shot of electricity! Such great music, such dense, interesting, aggressive, insightful lyrics, such strong, clear, epic storytelling! Everything about the show thrilled me. The next day I sat down in my hotel and wrote a blog post about how much I loved it.

It's interesting right now, as Hamilton dominates the world of musical theatre (and then some), to start work on American Idiot. People talk about how Hamilton will fundamentally change the musical theatre (and I think they're right and I'm really glad), but it reminds me that Rent was just as paradigm shattering, just as revolutionary, just as "fusion-ary" (fusing Top 40 rock with both musical theatre and opera) and just as influential, back in 1996. And I also realize now that American Idiot holds up the center of a political rock theatre trilogy. As tuned into its own zeitgeist as Rent was, so was American Idiot, and apparently, so is Hamilton.

Don't you dare call this a show a jukebox musical or a catalog musical. Yes, the score started out as an album (and a half), but this is no Mamma Mia! This is serious, powerful storytelling, capturing a pivotal moment in our collective lives both then and now.

And that score! Every song is outstanding, so many of them powerfully emotional, some of them really haunting. Plus these songs were translated for the stage by Tom Kitt, composer of High Fidelity, Next to Normal, and If/Then. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who wrote most of the songs, really loved what Kitt did with his work. Armstrong says in the documentary Broadway Idiot, "I think some of these versions are better than what we recorded."

It wasn't until after seeing the show in New York that my analytical mind realized American Idiot is a triple Hero Myth, as Johnny, Will, and Tunny all respond in different ways to the cultural upheaval of a post-9/11 world, and all three go on spiritual journeys to find their place in the world, their path, their "Real" as Passing Strange would put it. Each of them takes his own Hero's Journey, though Johnny's is the most detailed.

Heroes' Journeys can be concrete, as in an actual trip, or they can be interior. Or both. In American Idiot, director and bookwriter (which means in this case, re-conceiver) Michael Mayer gives us all three versions. Will stays behind, and his journey is interior, about learning to grow up and stop being selfish (just like Rob Gordon in High Fidelity). Both Johnny and Tunny take actual trips, but Tunny literally goes to the other side of the world, while Johnny physically travels to New York, but then journeys inside through the use of drugs. Both Tunny and Johnny travel to "the underworld" in one way or another, as many classic Heroes do.

All the big ideas in the show are present in the Green Day album but more abstract, more thematic, more metaphoric. In the context of our triple Hero Myth, "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is no longer about the death of Armstrong's father, but instead it makes September into a symbol, the month that contained 9/11 and contains all the anniversaries, the post-9/11 mindset in its totality, forever with us. This song of personal lost and pain becomes instead a song about social oppression and delusion. September becomes the culture of the War on Terror.

What's different about these three journeys from their archetypes is this additional element not usually present in stories like these. Not only do these men have to find their individual paths, but at the same time, a very aggressive, oppressive culture is pushing them onto a different path, into a mindset they feel is false and toxic. The entire conflict of the story is set up in the first sentence of the show, "Don't wanna be an American Idiot!"

In other words, "Your Real is not my Real. Your fear is not my fear. Your path won't get me to my destination. But how can I find my own Real, how can I avoid being an American idiot, if Bush and Cheney's Real is the only Real anyone recognizes? How can I find my Real when their Real permeates everything?"

In the great book, Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the "War on Terror," media critic Ben Bagdikian explains corporate monopolization of the media bluntly: “A cartel of five media conglomerates now control the media on which a majority of Americans say they most rely. These five are not just large – though they are all among the 325 largest corporations in the world – they are unique among all huge corporations: they are a major factor in changing the politics of the United States and they condition social values of children and adults alike. These five huge corporations own most of the newspapers, magazines, books, radio, and TV stations and movie studios of the United States. They have acquired more public communications power – including ownership of the news – than any private businesses have ever before possessed in world history. Nothing in earlier history matches this corporate group's power to penetrate the social landscape.”

Our three heroes don't want to be passive, controlled people who accept what "authorities" tell them, believe what others believe, chase the prizes others chase. These three guys know or at least feel that's not right. And yet, they have been passive in their own lives for so long. They have not yet taken control of their destinies. At the top of the show, these three don't know what the right path is, but they can sure tell what the wrong path is. Even if they don't know it rationally, they know instinctually that they can't follow the same road everybody else (the "American idiots") are following. They have to find their own road, their own Real.

But they have no road map. Armstrong says in the Broadway Idiot documentary, "A big theme of mine is just being lost in the chaos." He also says, "It's about learning the hard lessons."

What's particularly fascinating about this story is that we get three Hero Myth stories, three different responses to the obstacles of a post-9/11 culture of fear, disconnection, and lies. Johnny chooses a path to the "underworld" of drug addiction, and there he must confront himself in that underworld (in the person of St. Jimmy), just as Luke Skywalker did on Dagobah.

Tunny succumbs to the toxic drum beat and finds the only path out of his Depression is in joining the military, a potent plotline considering the central theme of our story is resisting the call. Arguably, both Johnny and Tunny choose terrible paths for themselves and suffer the consequences. Will resists the call to roam in order to "take responsibility" for his coming child, to stay at home and build a domestic life.

None of the three finds much good in the path he chooses, but ultimately we see the problem isn't the three paths; the problem is the world has gone mad. And the triumph for any of our three heroes is in not going mad as well, finding wisdom and sanity in their own Real and staying on their own road, just as humans have done during times of turmoil and upheaval for centuries – just as our Hero Myths have taught us.

Occasionally (not that often, really) people criticize me for "putting politics" into shows. But I don't put politics into the show we do; the politics are already there. Heathers isn't explicitly about politics, but it is about the Othering of people, which makes violence and hatred against them easier. What could be more political than that? Cry-Baby isn't explicitly about politics, but it's a story about class and injustice. How can you divorce that issue and its context from politics? After all, politics is just the way we choose to live together in this huge country of ours.

The politics of American Idiot are even more overt than many of our other shows. Look at this opening lyric, set to a driving, aggressive beat:
Don't want to be an American idiot
Don't want a nation under the new media
Hey, can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal mind fuck America

Welcome to a new kind of tension
All across the alienation
Where everything isn't meant to be okay
Television dreams of tomorrow
We're not the ones meant to follow
For that's enough to argue

Well maybe I am the faggot America
I'm not a part of a redneck agenda
Now everybody, do the propaganda!
And sing along to the age of paranoia

Welcome to a new kind of tension
All across the alienation
Where everything isn't meant to be okay
Television dreams of tomorrow
We're not the ones meant to follow
For that's enough to argue

Don't want to be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Don't want to be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Don't want to be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Information age of hysteria
Calling out to idiot America

Welcome to a new kind of tension
All across the alienation
Where everything isn't meant to be okay
Television dreams of tomorrow
We're not the ones meant to follow
For that's enough to argue

Almost feels like this song was written about America today, doesn't it? How perfectly Billie Joe Armstrong describes politics right now in 2016, with "Welcome to a new kind of tension, all across the alienation..." Who could better describe Trump supporters and the GOP primary in general? You almost forget Armstrong was writing more than ten years ago, in response to George W. Bush and his War on Terror.

The world changed drastically in the mid and late 1960s. Values changes, perceptions changed, belief systems changed, humor changed, language changed, sexuality changed, culture changed. It's the most obvious reason why Rodgers & Hammerstein shows no longer speak to the reality of modern-day America.

But change that big, that fundamental, is scary, traumatic, disorienting. Freedom isn't easy. No longer armed with clear expectations about their future, America's youth was lost, searching for meaning, for purpose, for spiritual truth outside mainstream religion. And that feeling of being lost, and that search for answers is the whole point of shows like Hair, Pippin, Rocky Horror, and Tommy.

But massive changed was visited upon our country again after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And just as Hair documented the anger and disconnection of youth in the 60s, American Idiot is a clear companion piece, taking a similar snapshot of America in the earliest years of this new century. And like Hair, American Idiot doesn't paint a pretty picture.

But the last scene, "The Final Letter," leaves us with something of value, almost subliminally. It's not optimism, exactly, but an embrace of life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can't just embrace the easy parts of life; you have to embrace all of it.
Somewhere New.

Johnny: And that was that.

Tunny: Or so it seemed.

Will: Is this the end
Or the beginning?

Johnny: All I know is,
She was right.
I am an idiot.
It's even on my birth certificate.
In so many words.

Heather: This is my rage.

Extraordinary Girl: This is my love.

Will: This is my town.

Whatsername: This is my city.

Johnny: This is my life.


Whatever life may hand you, it's your life. These characters learn what Chip Tolentino knows, "Life is random and unfair, Life is pandemonium." That doesn't have to be a bad thing, as you long as you understand it. Life is neither reward nor punishment; it's just a road. The trick, as the great Joseph Campbell put it, is to find your bliss and follow it. Ultimately, our heroes find their Real inside themselves. Exactly like Pippin does. And Luke Skywalker and Rob Gordon and Charles Bukowski, and all the great heroes in all the great hero stories.

I've been re-watching the incredible PBS series The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell. It's a great reminder that there are really only a few great stories, which we repeat over and over in different forms, all of which act as metaphors for a human life. Storytelling is how we make sense of ourselves and the world around us. It's good to be reminded how ancient and fundamental to our existence storytelling is. And it's a worthwhile reminder to me, that though I'm working on a punk rock opera, these stories are as old as human experience.

It's good to be humbled now and then.

This is going to be such an excellent adventure! We've got half our Heathers cast moving on to American Idiot, plus some very cool new folks. I can't wait to get started this week! I'll keep you posted...

Long Live the Musical!

They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright...

I often rail against a Broadway-centric view of the American musical theatre, and against a lack of understanding of the new forms our art form has taken, among people working on and off Broadway. Of course, I have an understandable bias since New Line often resurrects outstanding musicals that the New York commercial theatre has screwed up.

The coolest thing to happen to our art form lately is a proliferation of small companies across the country producing the kind of shows that used to need saving by New Line. Ten years ago, probably only New Line could have rescued Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or Bonnie & Clyde or Hands on a Hardbody. But today, as soon as the rights are released, lots of companies produce these shows. New Line always used to be the first company after New York to do shows like this, but now we're often just among the first. And that's a really great portent for the future health of our art form.

Broadway is no longer the center of the American musical theatre, as it was mid-century. And yet, it's still Broadway, right? (Two of our New Liners are in New York seeing shows as I type this.) Because I was born in the 60s, Broadway was all there was for the first part of my life, Broadway cast albums, Broadway stars on TV variety shows, Broadway numbers on the Tony broadcast, and productions of older Broadway shows at the Muny and my brothers' high school.

Maybe it's because of New Line's 25th anniversary, or the fact that I'm over fifty now, but I've been thinking (and writing) a lot lately about the artistic influences that got me to where I am now. And here I go again.

This is a list of all the shows I've ever seen in New York. There aren't as many as you might think for a big musical theatre nerd like me, mainly because often, both New Line and I have been too poor to get me up to the Big Bad Apple. What ever happened to the days of royal patronage?

Still, despite my annoyance with those who think Broadway is still the be-all-end-all, I must admit I've seen some truly amazing shows up there that I'll never forget as long as I live. My junior year in high school, I had the chance to go to New York for the first time, with the Honor Society, to see seven Broadway shows (the thrill of my fucking life!) plus the Radio City Music Hall show (which I don't even remember, except that it was dumb). Oh yeah, we also went to Washington DC after New York, and I don't have a single memory of that either.

But those shows! I'll never forget my first, The Pirates of Penzance, and that brilliant cast in 1981, Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, Rex Smith, Tony Azito, et al. In an instant, it completely changed how I thought about musical theatre. It was so wild, anarchic, fearless, outrageous, rule-breaking, but also fully invested in character and relationships, with never a false moment breaking the wacky reality of the story. The director Wilford Leach and his actors took their insanity very seriously, and when there were serious, emotional moments, the approach really paid off. Luckily, they've now released on commercial video that same production, at the Delacorte before it moved to Broadway, where I saw it. (I'm not talking about the leaden film version of that production; this is a video of the stage production.) All but one of the cast is the same, so I get to relive my first Broadway experience whenever I want.

Which is fucking incredible.

My first trip was in April 1981, and I saw my first six Broadway musicals...

The Pirates of Penzance
A Chorus Line
A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine
42nd Street

Every one of them was beyond thrilling – the high concept of Barnum (telling his life story in the language of circus acts, which foreshadowed the end of the story), the intense Brechtian political theatre of Evita, my first look at a true masterwork, A Chorus Line (which I've since seen 19 more times), Tommy Tune's insanely funny evening of one-acts, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (the first act a revue about Old Hollywood, the second act a musical Chekhov play starring the Marx Brothers), and Gower Champion's brilliant 42nd Street, an absolutely perfect example of early 20th-century musical comedy, more authentic than anything else I've ever seen.

It was a week-long master class in my art form.

In case you're wondering, the seventh show I saw on that trip was Deathtrap in a truly powerful production. It was so scary, so ballsy, so aggressive, and it had the audience screaming several times. I didn't list Deathtrap because I'm talking about musicals, but that show taught me two very important things. First, fucking stand still unless you have a reason to move. I had never seen a show so cleanly staged in my life, never a wasted movement, and it really focused the storytelling – and the scares! Second, the size of stage performance was bigger than real life (and film acting), magnifying but also focusing reality. Theatre scholar Tom Oppenheim wrote in one of my favorite books, Training of the American Actor, about the great acting teacher Stella Adler, "Stella insisted that characters must be multidimensional and grounded in oneself. They must be real human beings. But she does not shy away from painting characters in broad strokes. While she demands truth, she never shies away from size." Every show I saw on this first trip to New York illustrated all this.

Except for A Chorus Line. I didn't get it until I saw it live onstage, when it hit me that A Chorus Line is a "documentary musical," a naturalistic (as far as possible) musical drama. I learned so much on that trip.

And then the next Christmas my brother Rick gave me on of those brass theatre ticket keychains, with The Pirates of Penzance on it. I still wonder to this day who thought there'd be a market for Pirates of Penzance keychains. But I still have mine.

In June 1986, my mom came up to Boston to see me at college, and we went down to New York to see three shows.

La Cage aux Folles
Little Shop of Horrors
Sweet Charity

Again, three wonderful shows. The original La Cage was so magnificent and so joyful, really supreme old-school musical comedy; although I have to say, now that I've seen the 2010 revival, I think I like the show better when it's treated like a drama instead of a musical comedy. But I didn't know that back then. I just knew George Hearn was incredible. Seeing the original Little Shop was another mind-blower for me, a really early neo musical comedy, foreshadowing the new Golden Age that started a decade later, and that also really changed how I thought about my art form. And the revival of Sweet Charity was also really wonderful, with Debbie Allen and Michael Rupert in the leads, and Fosse's original choreography recreated.

My next trip wasn't until June 1996, after a ten-year period of extreme artsy poverty, when a great uncle died and left me $10,000 (which I blew on a giant TV, a computer, and an awesome NY trip), but then I started going up fairly regularly. That first trip back was likewise mind-blowing.

Bring on da Noise, Bring on da Funk
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum 
The King and I
How to Succeed...

Seriously, tenth row, center, for Rent, right after it moved uptown, before the cast album had even been released. All I knew was that everyone was losing their shit over this show and I had to see it. And yes, it was one of the two or three greatest thrills of my entire life. I still get so emotionally overwhelmed just thinking about that experience. It connected with me more deeply, more powerfully, than any other show ever had.

But I also saw Noise/Funk on that trip, which was nearly as mind-blowing. Despite how impossible it sounds, George Wolfe and Savion Glover actually told the story of the Black experience in America through tap. It was brilliant, transcendent, beautiful, powerful... And the chance to see Glover live was equally as thrilling.

Of the other shows on that trip, How to Succeed, with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker (right at the end of the run), was a real misfire by Des McAnuff, who just didn't understand the material. It was really cute and frothy, when it should be dark, razor-sharp satire. And Forum with Nathan Lane was a lot of fun, but Lane was too eager to violate that brilliant script, which was a little disappointing. There's not a single anachronism in the Forum script, which is part of what makes it funny, but many people have played that lead without understanding that. Still, it was a good production.

And now a little story. On that trip I was staying with a fiend of a friend, who lived in Manhattan. And this guy was college friends with Frank Rich. So I ended up, one afternoon, sitting in Frank Rich's office at The New York Times, talking musical theatre, The high school theatre geek inside me was jumping up and down with glee. So Rich asked me what shows I was seeing, and I told him, and he said, "You really ought to see The King and I." This was the revival with Lou Diamond Philips and Donna Murphy. And I said to Frank, "I don't really like Rodgers & Hammerstein." And he said, "You really should see it."

When I left his office, I thought, Frank Rich just told me I should see a show, who the fuck am I to ignore Frank Rich? So I bought a ticket to The King and I, and Frank was right. The production was a revelation, really changing how I experienced and thought about this story, partly because Australian director Christopher Renshaw made some fairly radical changes. As we entered the theatre, we saw Buddhist monks praying, and the show began with a prayer ceremony. It was incredibly culturally respectful, and that made the whole story seem more serious, even in the lighter scenes. Renshaw cut everything that was unintentionally racist about the original material, and most radical of all, the production focused like a laser on the acting, relationships, subtext, all the things that usually get lost along the way in productions of Rodgers & Hammerstein shows. It was a much smaller, more intimate story, despite the (arguably) necessary spectacle.

Now, instead of a show about the smart English lady and the backward but proud barbarians, it became a story about an unavoidable clash of civilizations, and the Moses-like sacrifice of this intelligent, forward-thinking, thoughtful King.

Years later, I still remember that production, and I wonder why it is that we usually need a foreign director to make R&H shows work now.

My next trip was in February 1998. I saw...

The Lion King
The Capeman
When Pigs Fly

I bought tickets to see Ragtime twice, the first time from the front row. It was everything I knew it would be, thrilling, powerful, emotional. But I think the biggest thrill for me was seeing that cast, experiencing up close the powerful presence of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, and Marin Mazzie, the kind of electricity I always hear people mention in talking about Ethel Merman or Mary Martin.

Even cooler, I got to meet and chat with Lynn Ahrens and Steve Flaherty over bagels, between my two times seeing the show. What a fucking awesome thrill that was. They were incredibly nice.

The Lion King was a brilliant physical production of really mediocre material (except for the cool African vocals by Lebo M) and mediocre acting. The Capeman was a bit of a mess, but utterly amazing, and I'll always remember at the end of the show, the audience leaping to our feet, screaming, cheering. I remember being so stunned when it closed so quickly. I loved it. And Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly was just a silly gay revue off Broadway, but it really was clever.

A New Brain

I went back in July 1998, but I only saw one musical. I can't remember what else I was doing that I couldn't see more. It was Bill Finn's A New Brain at Lincoln Center, which I instantly fell in love with. I think it was the first time I walked out of a show, thinking Oh my god, I have to do this show! I was in the front row, kind of on the corner of the thrust stage. I'll always remember, at the end of the show, as the cast is singing "I Feel So Much Spring," I glanced to my side and saw the entire audience with huge smiles and also about half of the audience with tears streaming down their cheeks. Including mine. Truly one of the great theatre experiences of my life. I still tear up any time I hear that song. The emotions are just so intense.

My next trip was in January 1999, and I saw wild shit!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch from the front row center at the awesomely creepy Jane Street Theatre, and because I'm a great laugher, John Cameron Mitchell started playing a lot of jokes to me, and then I was the lucky recipient of his "car wash" – he stood above me on the arms of my theatre seat, and brushed my head with the fringe on Hedwig's cowboy skirt. Yet another show that shattered any preconceptions I may have had and again changed the way I thought about making musicals.

Jason Robert Brown's Parade was a fucking harrowing musical! Not a pleasant journey to go on, but utterly brilliant in every way. Such powerful theatre. And seeing Fosse was about as awesome as anything I could imagine, a whole evening of dance by one of my greatest artistic heroes. It was thrilling.

I went back again in January 2000 and saw...

Putting It Together
Marie Christine
Kiss Me, Kate

Putting It Together was an abomination. I have nothing positive to say about it. And Marie Christine was maybe the most boring musical I've ever seen. I actually came close to dozing off a couple times, and easily a third of the audience didn't come back after intermission. On the other hand, Kiss Me, Kate, with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, was pretty great, and I was surprised to enjoy this show I had never really liked all that much...

I went again in April 2001 and was back in musical theatre heaven.

Bat Boy
The Producers
Naked Boys Singing

Bat Boy was everything I could ever want from the musical theatre, all in one crazy, outrageous, brilliant, satirical show. This was another show that I walked out of, thinking, How soon can I get the rights to do this?

The Producers isn't the best material in the world, but I saw it the day after it opened on Broadway, and that original cast was as perfect as anyone could have hoped, and overall, Susan Stroman's production was just about perfect old-school musical comedy. I don't know that I've ever seen a group of leads having more fun on a stage. Follies was not perfect, but it was very good, and it was my first time seeing this masterpiece live. And Naked Boys Singing was much smarter and more clever than I expected. Plus pretty naked men.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, I kept seeing all those commercials begging us to come back to New York, and I decided I owed Broadway something. So I flew up in November 2001, thrilled in part to see Bat Boy again!

Bat Boy
tick… tick… BOOM!

I was pleasantly surprised by tick... tick... BOOM!, Jonathan Larson's earlier, very autobiographical show, which his family got produced. I really enjoyed it. Bat Boy was scheduled to close soon, so the audience for my second time was PUMPED. It confirmed for me that A.) Bat Boy is pure genius, and B.) it is a New Line show if ever there was such a thing. But then I discovered so is Urinetown! Those two shows have now become among my favorite shows ever. I didn't know it then, but I was witnessing the birth of this new Golden Age.

I went back again in March 2002, and saw...

The Last Five Years
The Sweet Smell of Success

The Oklahoma! revival with Patrick Wilson was really mediocre. Big fuckin' yawn. But Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years was really cool, Norbert Leo Butz was incredible, and Jason was playing and leading the band, which meant they rocked a little harder. And I got to meet and briefly talk with Jason after the show, which was awesome.

And The Sweet Smell of Success was very cool in so many ways, but it didn't totally grab me. I think maybe it was a show that needed to be in a smaller space, to give an up-close audience the unease that is such a part of the story. I have since seen the show again on a bootleg video, and since it's shot mostly in close-up, it works a lot better for me. I think it's about intimacy. So yes, New Line will do this show at some point.

Finances didn't allow me to return to New York until October 2009, and I had a mostly great trip.

Next to Normal
Toxic Avenger

Diane Paulus' incredible revival of Hair was just perfect in every conceivable way (except for a couple Broadway belters among the women). Having studied the show deeply, directed it three times, and written a whole book about it, I'm not easy to please when it comes to Hair, but I was thrilled. Plus, we were in the front row, and Will Swenson as Berger (wearing nothing but a loin cloth) literally climbed up my body at one point to fuck with the person sitting behind me. I did not mind one bit.

Toxic Avenger was terrible. Stupid, clumsy, not funny, and weirdly, stealing almost the entire plot of Bat Boy. What is that about? On the other hand, Next to Normal was also thrilling and emotional and unbelievably powerful. I walked out, knowing we'd tackle it as soon as they'd let us.

I went back in November 2010 and saw some really amazing theatre...

American Idiot
La Cage aux Folles
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
The Scottsboro Boys

This was one of the most artistically satisfying trips I've ever taken to New York. I knew nothing about American Idiot going into the theatre, but I instantly fell in love with its music and incredibly strong storytelling. The revival of La Cage with Douglas Hodge was a fucking revelation! By treating the material like a quirky drama instead of a musical comedy, by making the characters and the club realer and less stylized, this production completely transformed the material (with virtually no rewrites), into something even cooler than the original. I walked out thinking, La Cage really could be a New Line show!

And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was another show that changed what I thought about my art form – such a wild, rowdy, bizarre, and yet truthful and powerfully insightful piece of theatre. It's very conception is pure genius, making Andrew Jackson into a whiny teenage emo kid, in order to illuminate the zeitgeist of the 1820s. My only thought after the show was When can I get rights to this?

And then I saw The Scottsboro Boys, another genuine masterpiece from Kander and Ebb, fully equal to Cabaret and Chicago. Truly one of the most powerful, most emotional, most thrilling things I've ever seen on any stage. It was almost unbearable and yet one of the greatest theatre experiences of my life.

The last time I got up to New York was in November 2011, but what a trip I had! So many amazing shows!

The Blue Flower
Lysistrata Jones
Bonnie & Clyde

The revival of Follies was utterly Perfect. I realized while I was watching it that this was the closest I would ever get to understanding what the original Follies was like – searing, thrilling, shattering, incendiary – one of the most difficult and most beautiful pieces ever written for the musical stage. This was the third time I had seen Follies onstage (including once in London in 2002), but the other two didn't even compare to this. Utterly fucking mind-blowing.

Likewise, The Blue Flower also blew my mind, this brilliant, wild, quirky collage-musical about artists in Europe during the first World War, using projected film and photos more integrated than in any other show I've ever seen. The show was billed as "a playful Dada inspired romp through the memories unleashed at the moment of Max's death, centering on three friends and lovers he lost and the apparitions of events that overwhelmed their lives during World War I and the restless post-war years of the Weimar Republic in Germany." Totally fucking brilliant theatre, like nothing else I've ever seen. Someday I want to produce this show, but it will be quite an undertaking!

Lysistrata Jones and Bonnie & Clyde were both totally wonderful, great scores, great writing, great casts, great productions, and yet both closed just a few months after I saw them. (I also had a really weird, uncomfortable encounter with Casey Nicholaw, director of The Book of Mormon.)

And then there was the revival of Rent, which again blew my mind (my mind was getting used to it by now). This production was TOTALLY different from the original, different staging, different set, very different characterizations, and yet directed by the same guy as the original, the brilliant Michael Greif. It was like seeing Rent for the first time again, and what could be better than that?

One other thing I love to do when I'm in New York is go to the New York Public Library's Theatre on Film and Tape Collection at Lincoln Center. Over the years, I've seen so many shows on video there, Songs for a New World, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Grey Gardens, Falsettos, The Burnt Part Boys, excerpts from the original (and awful) Carrie, and others. Such a great resource!

I haven't been back to New York since 2011, because neither New Line nor I have been able to afford to send me back (maybe next fall?), but I have two excellent video bootlegger friends who help me with that problem... Shhhh! Don't tell anyone...

There have been so many influences on me and my work over the years, but the shows and productions listed here were among the most consequential of those influences. I'm a different artist than I would have been otherwise because I saw these productions of The Pirates of Penzance, Little Shop of Horrors, Follies, Rent (both times!), The Blue Flower, A New Brain, Evita, Hedwig, Ragtime, Bat Boy, Urinetown, and so many others.

I'm sure there are many more influences to come...

Long Live the Musical!