Punk opera American Idiot blasts soul-sucking suburbia

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      If Myles McCarthy is extra excited about the idea of playing Saint Jimmy in the musical version of Green Day’s American Idiot, it’s for a good reason. As every rock ’n’ roll fan knows, you never forget your first live concert. McCarthy was lucky enough to see one of the biggest acts in the history of punk rock at the height of its powers.

      “It’s the first rock concert I ever went to as a kid, so I’m pretty familiar with the aesthetic and everything that they are trying to convey,” says the young Lower Mainland actor, calling the Straight from his home in Port Coquitlam. “I saw them at B.C. Place back in the day—it was a huge show. Everything after that was held up to that standard. And I’ve only seen two shows that have kind of measured up.”

      For those curious, the two shows are Roger Waters’s tribute to The Wall, and Muse’s tour for Drones.

      “Those shows were also for concept albums, so apparently I really like concerts for concept albums,” McCarthy says with a laugh.

      Given his fandom, he unsurprisingly has zero trouble breaking down what he loved, and still loves, about American Idiot. A concept album dubbed a punk-rock opera, the record centres around a character named Jesus of Suburbia, an antihero who’s come of age in the time of George W. Bush, the Iraq War, and the Walmart-ization of America. Raised on “soda pop and Ritalin”, Jesus of Suburbia bails on small-town USA for the big city, at which point his swaggering, angry, drug-shooting alter ego, Saint Jimmy, enters the picture.

      “The original Green Day album is kind of a musical,” McCarthy says. “The way that they present it is kind of a hybrid between a rock show and a musical, and I really enjoyed how clear their ideas were watching it. Now that it’s a play, a rock opera, it has a through line that you need to get the approval of theatre critics. But you still have to appeal to Green Day fans, and I think they’ve found a way to bridge that gap.”

      Tristan Smith, Elaine Bevans, and Myles McCarthy (clockwise from top) star in American Idiot.
      Allyson Fournier

      The stage version of American Idiot, produced locally by Fighting Chance Productions, chronicles three friends attempting to escape the soul-sucking confines of suburbia. Those friends have various degrees of success. Johnny (aka the album’s Jesus of Suburbia) starts out raging against the man, and ends up learning that addiction isn’t nearly the glamorous party it seems from the outside. Will is held back in small-town America by a pregnant girlfriend, while Tunny quickly abandons the city for the military and a life-altering stint overseas.

      Calling Saint Jimmy an “obvious manifestation of his [Johnny’s] drug-addict self”, McCarthy says: “It’s such a delicate balance of finding this antagonistic character, but also this really fun character that people can relate to and have a good time with. Because Green Day is so sophomoric, that’s kind of how you go about it—you make everything fun and a joke until it gets to the point where it’s not funny anymore.”

      He continues: “That’s when you get this dangerous, volatile, you’re-not-sure-what’s-going-to-happen character. Because Saint Jimmy is not a real person, it’s really interesting how you can use that to go a little bit overboard. That’s really fun to play with. I’m having a blast with this and I’m not going to lie: it’s fun being a rock star.”

      And what he loves is that he’s not the only one in American Idiot who feels that way. If that Green Day concert taught him anything, it’s that there are few jobs that look more fun than getting to strap on a guitar every night.

      “We’re playing with a full-on great live band in the show,” McCarthy says. “I play in the show a bit, and then at the end everyone plays an acoustic guitar, so everyone involved is really musically inclined. It was funny—we came into the production on the first day and everyone has either been in a band or has been playing music their whole lives. So we can all go to the beach and have one of those hipster, circle-jerk guitar things and not feel ashamed about it, because it’s just what we like to do.”

      American Idiot runs at the Waterfront Theatre from Wednesday (August 3) to August 27.