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Punk Rock Paranoia

Roaring with raw energy and rage in a manner that few shows can muster, Theatre Tulsa’s version of American Idiot takes slacker heroes on a journey of youthful disaffection in a post-9/11 America.

Monica Craddock
August 29, 2017

Tune into your inner punk to follow the story of three friends tired of where they grew up and ready to venture out on their own. While experiencing their new lives outside of Jingletown, USA, Johnny (Caleb Ricketts), Will (Thomas Williams) and Tunny (Powell Barca) learn that growing into adulthood is not always what you might expect. Through excitement, desire, tragedy and discovery, this musical brings to life these friends’ strong emotions of getting away from political anarchy in the middle of “nowhere-you-want-to-be.”

Johnny finds drugs; Tunny finds himself in the military and then an amputee; Will, who never actually leaves home, gets a girl pregnant and finds himself a couch potato. By the finale, all three are back in suburbia, having learned nothing and gotten nowhere.

The story of American Idiot — based on the 2004 concept album of the same name by rock band Green Day — was written during the post 9/11 era by Michael Mayer and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. The original Green Day album was, in a way, a response to the trauma of the 9/11 events and the Iraqi war that followed; it encompasses so many feelings many adolescents of the time would have felt.

The original musical premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre (California) in 2009 before moving to Broadway in 2010. Now, it’s Tulsa’s chance to put a spin on the rock opera, that includes all the songs from the original album, as well as additional Green Day songs.

Distinct to Theater Tulsa’s version of American Idiot, the casting was done by blind auditions, which have become more popular in theater, especially with political activism and awareness becoming more common in theater as well.

Blind auditions — based on performance alone without consideration of gender, background, work history or other bias — are a little more intriguing, which is great, as this show’s intent is to challenge and shock people.

Since there are different genders in what were originally specific gender-roles, the vocal range is more exciting and more experimental on what one can do with their character. One example of this nontraditional casting is St. Jimmy’s character (Johnny’s alter-ego), which is traditionally cast as a male role but will be played by a female, Kaley Durland. After seeing the show the first time, Durland knew someday, if presented with the opportunity, she wanted to play St. Jimmy.

“This character is outrageous,” says Durland. “St. Jimmy’s being encompasses every kind of desire, all things that Johnny wants but never had.”

Excited by the challenge of finding the perfect interpretation between being a girl but playing a guy while channeling the inner angst and enormity of St. Jimmy, Durland is excited to find out just how much she relates to her character.

“I’m going to find out. And, I’m ready to find out,” she says. “St. Jimmy is written to be outrageous and big. I’ve got those things locked down. St. Jimmy is not afraid to be who ‘they’ are. I’m excited to find out who I am as St. Jimmy. So, in seeing this musical, I hope others can figure that out as well.”

This new interpretation of the show has something for everyone. Anyone who is a Green Day fan will be enthralled, as well as any fan of punk rock, edgy alternative music.

The characters also all have their ups and downs so, as an audience member, you become invested and feel for the characters while loving the music at the same time. How the story is driven by the music, in the exact order of the album, is such an interesting way to experience theater.

“This is one of those shows, while I didn’t consider myself a hard core Green Day fan, I instantly fell in love with the show the second I saw it,” Durland says. “You get totally drawn in, and then it’s a concert.”

Getting to experience these three friends’ journeys will be something people have rarely seen performed in Tulsa, as the alternative theater scene is still building here. This fact makes the show, and its challenges to take on a new perspective, all the more exciting to experience.

Although the show was written in the early 2000s, it can still be applicable to our daily lives and can challenge us as we move forward. This musical challenges one’s traditional sense of theater and music, molding into a hybrid performance of both, and with an excited amazing cast leading the way.

“Art is supposed to push limits. I hope that the show is not exactly what people expect it to be,” Durland says. “And when they see it, I hope they leave gaining a new perspective.”

American Idiot
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. |
Sept. 22-23, 29-30: 8 p.m.
Oct. 1: 1 p.m.