Bringing rock's best to the stage

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2012 - 4:06 PM

We challenged the team behind "American Idiot" to brainstorm about how they'd bring other rock classics to the stage.

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Van Hughes as Johnny and Joshua Kobak as St. Jimmy with the company of “American Idiot.”

Michael Mayer and Tom Kitt did it once. Could they do it again? Could they adapt one of pop's best-selling concept albums into a Broadway musical?

With "American Idiot," the 2004 Green Day rock opera that landed on Broadway in 2010, coming to Minneapolis this week, we posed that question to Mayer, the show's director and co-writer (with Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong), and Kitt, who handled the musical arrangements. Mayer snared a Tony Award for directing the musical "Spring Awakening" while Kitt won two Tonys for composing and orchestrating "Next to Normal."

In separate interviews, we asked them how they would transform 10 classic albums into musicals.

MEAT LOAF, "BAT OUT OF HELL"

Mayer: It is very theatrical. He is a real character. It would be fun to see someone like Jack Black play him and do it in a Cirque du Soleil kind of theme park.

DAVID BOWIE, "THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST"

Mayer: It's the great glam moment. That should be done in like Studio 54, at something a little bit disco. It's a tawdry and decadent world where this amazing creation arrives from another place and time and just takes it over.

Kitt: I think a John Cameron Mitchell-like performance should be the center of any kind of David Bowie piece.

QUEEN, "A NIGHT AT THE OPERA"

Kitt: "The tricky thing with anything that's Queen is they already made a [jukebox] musical of "We Will Rock You." I wonder if there's a way to incorporate the story of Freddie Mercury, who lived a very interesting and way-too-short life.

Mayer: That should be a big opera. Someone should do that at the Metropolitan Opera, and it should be drop-dead, over the top. And they should use real opera singers. Get Renee Fleming to sing in there and Jonas Kaufmann. I'd go see that.

THE BEATLES, "SGT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND"

Kitt: Rather than coming up with the story of who Lucy is or who's fixing a hole or who's Mr. Kite, is there a way to do a musical that is a behind-the-scenes look at how the Beatles came up with one of the most thrilling creations in music history?

Mayer: The best way to do the Beatles stuff where it's not embarrassing is to do it animated like "Yellow Submarine." They're too defined already as people.

ELTON JOHN, "GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD"

Mayer: You could come up with individual stories with each song. Each song could have its own separate world and one character going on a long journey, starting with that funeral and it's all a flashback. I love that album.

THE EAGLES, "HOTEL CALIFORNIA"

Mayer: The whole thing could take place in the hotel and there could be lots of characters who have their own journeys in there that intersect with each other. But there aren't enough songs on that; you'd have to add a lot of songs.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEE, "BORN TO RUN"

Kitt: It's one of my favorite albums of all time. You could either do something on how Springsteen created that album or try to find a story of someone who is running away from someone, someone who belongs to a gang or spends a lot of time in the street. I think Bruce Springsteen is someone who should definitely write for the theater.

THE CLASH, "LONDON CALLING"

Mayer: That would sort of be like "English Idiot." Like some terrible little divey place in Brixton and get a bunch of little English punks to live out their lives in the same way we did "American Idiot."

JAY-Z, "AMERICAN GANGSTER"

Mayer: You could do that on the street somewhere and make it feel somehow completely hyper-realistic. Block off a street and have like a block party. It could be free. Jay-Z could pay for it; he's got so much money.

LADY GAGA, "BORN THIS WAY"

Mayer: It's almost redundant. When she does her concert, it is a theater event. I think Lady Gaga should write an original musical. I don't think she even needs to be in it but it would be great if she was. She has innate theatricality, and I think she understands drama, which is different from theatrical. Because there's always conflict in the characters who sing her songs. She's born to write theater music.

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  • 5 facts about 'American Idiot'

    Tuesday February 21, 2012

    1: When director/co-writer Michael Mayer was putting together the musical, Green Day composer/frontman Billie Joe Armstrong let him listen to...

  • AMERICAN IDIOT

    What: Musical version of Green Day's 2004 album.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu. 2/21-2/23, 8 p.m. Fri. 2/24, 2 & 8 p.m. Sat. 2/25 and 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun. 2/26

    Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $35-$80. 800-329-8587 or HennepinTheatreTrust.org.

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