Smile Politely

A few smart guys talk about American Idiot

Twin City Squared will be putting on the musical American Idiot at the Harold and Jean Miner Theater at Parkland College late this month through early June. Writer Mace Mackiewicz talked to the director of the musical Mikel Matthews, the producer Michael Galloway and the music director Griffin Jenkins. The musical is based on the Green Day album of the same name and on Broadway has won a couple of Tony awards.

Smile Politely: Why did you choose to do American Idiot for the musical?

Michael Galloway, producer: We first wanted to do Rock of Ages, but the royalties were very expensive. When I had the chance to get American Idiot I jumped at it!

Mikel Matthews, director: Michael let me know they were considering American Idiot, but he didn’t know if he had time to direct it. He asked me if I wanted to step in and I said absolutely, it sounded like a lot of fun. It’s an interesting challenge in that the story isn’t actually told through the music quite so much. You have to kind of put the story in there.

SP: What’s the job of the music director in this production?

Griffin Jenkins: So my job is to just oversee all the musical elements of the show. I work with Mikel to make sure the music lines up with the vision of the show. Starting at the beginning of the process I teach the cast the music and help them with vocals and coach that. I also work with the orchestra and conduct them as well. I also play piano on stage.

SP: Did you have to listen to the album to prepare to direct the musical?

Jenkins: I did, I was just sort of a casual fan of Green Day and wasn’t overly familiar with the music when I first got the job. I had to listen to the Broadway album a bit and had to listen to the Green Day album because I wanted to bring some of those elements into the show too and not make it too “Broadway Musical.”

SP: Are there any differences between the original album and Broadway versions of the songs?

Jenkins: It’s actually pretty straightforward; they’re pretty similar. What they added mostly to the Broadway version was a string quartet into the orchestrations and added some background vocals and harmonies. Some of the songs were extended or cut to fit the scene.

SP: Are you a big fan of Green Day?

Galloway: I am, I like all kinds of music and I grew up a big Kiss fan but then when I started working in radio I became a fan of Green Day’s music. I am also a huge fan of Broadway and musicals so I very familiar with American Idiot.

SP: How have the rehearsals been going?

Galloway: Rehearsals are going very well! In community theatre it is always hard to get schedules to line up, but with the way the show is set up we adapted very well. Most of the cast are Green Day fans so it made it a lot easier.

Matthews: Good, we’re at the point where we are going to be able to run the full thing after we clean up here soon. And it’s nice to see all of the things come together. Since we have a little space to practice in we aren’t necessarily able to work on more than one thing at a time. I’ll go a little bit longer without working with the cast and a little bit longer with working with Griffin.

SP: What is your favorite part about working on this musical?

Galloway: The staff! Most of the people I have on this staff I have worked with before and the new ones I cannot wait to work with again. Earlier this year I had a stroke and was in the hospital, as a producer you always worry how things are going and making sure it all goes according to plan. This staff I had not a single worry, they are amazing. Oh and the music, I love seeing this on the stage.

Matthews: The challenge of having to bring the story out. When you read the script it’s there in the stage direction and stuff but it’s not a traditional musical where you sort of have conversations going with the music. 

Some shows that are written by pop stars have someone come out and sing really beautifully. This one has an interesting challenge where you can’t just do a “park and bark” and you have to do stuff along with singing. I really enjoyed working on it and it’s different than other stuff I work on.

SP: How is the story actually told in this musical with so little dialogue?

Galloway: Very carefully, this is kind of a tricky question. To Green Day and musical fans, they will get it. If you are new to the show it might be a little hard to follow but I don’t think anyone will have a problem. 

Matthews: There’s only about seven interstitials of speaking in the whole musical. The singing carries some of the story but the action helps with how it’s been choreographed. It is a bit abstract and it doesn’t nail things down 100 percent. The interstitials don’t sell the story, the story has to be sold with what you’re doing on stage.

SP: Can you explain a little bit about Twin City Squared?

Galloway: Twin City Squared (Twin City Theatre Company) is a new theatre company for Central Illinois. The company produce and present plays, musicals and cabaret performances at venues throughout Central Illinois.

There are so many talented people in Central Illinois looking for and needing additional opportunities to perform. We hope to provide those opportunities. Twin City Squared also is open to persons and companies to invest in a production. 

American Idiot will be performed at the Harold and Jean Miner Theater at Parkland College from May 27 -28 at 7 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on May 29th, and from June 2-4 at 7 p.m. with matinees at 2 p.m. on the 4th and 5th. Tickets are on sale now and are $15 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens.

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