American Idiot Gets Grassroots

Courtesy of Doug Hamilton

With the dawn of movie musicals and shows based on collections of famous singers, one cannot help but wonder the future of musical theater. Will original music be lost forever? Will any movie that grosses an obscene amount of money be transformed into a stage show? Or, dare I say it, does musical theater even have a future?

Such questions are only speculative, but in order to address some of these quandaries, I interviewed Joshua Kobak, a Broadway performer who was a part of several original Broadway casts, such as “Tarzan” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” He is currently touring with the cast of “American Idiot,” a new musical based on the punk rock band Green Day album with the same name.

With Kobak’s background in new and edgy musical theater, I thought he would be the perfect person to raise these questions to.

Q: What type of theatre are you interested in, and what have you performed in?

JK: I’m not really a fan of old musical theater, such as Rogers and Hammerstein, but I like more of the new styles, like Sondheim.

Q: So, since you said you prefer more modern musical theater, I have to ask, how do you feel about the manner in which musical theatre is changing, particularly the idea that there is less and less original music?

JK: Well, in terms of “American Idiot,” the album was originally conceived as a rock opera by Green Day, so I wouldn’t really place it in the same category as other “jukebox musicals,” like “Mamma Mia”; those types are really more for the audience that wants to be entertained, compared to “American Idiot,” which is conceptual. Musical theater originally began as showcasing the popular music of that time, so it should stay that way, and “American Idiot” does just that. A show like “Rock of Ages,” however, just chooses random songs that go together. I don’t consider that to be theatre. Like, I don’t go to a museum to see a quilt; I go to see a sculpture.

Q: That’s a really interesting comparison! So, you briefly mentioned this before, but is “American Idiot” an original musical, even though the music is from Green Day?

JK: Yes it is original, because the story is a concept from the rock opera concept on the record, and then it was adapted for stage.  And since the music is from the 21st century, it is extremely current, which allows the modern story to be told in a modern way.  The show also uses a barrage of stimuli in lyrics, music, video and organic choreography. Even if you don’t catch every word, it’s OK because you will still get the feeling. It truly works from a modern perspective.

Q: It sort of sounds like “Spring Awakening.”

JK: Yes! The show is constructed in a similar manner; however, it is set in modern day.

Q: So, as a final question, how have you enjoyed touring with the cast?

JK: Well it’s been a really good experience, and I’ve been enjoying every minute since I have worked with a few of the cast before, and all of us were in the original Broadway show. The theatre community is small though, and since I have been doing this for 12 years, I know most of the people already.

In retrospect, Kobak enlightened us on how even though theatre may be headed in a different direction from the expected original story and original music plot line, it’s actually returning to its grassroots of placing popular music to a storyline for all to enjoy.

So, if you decide that you make your own judgment on whether or not the future of the theater is headed for better or a worse, I recommend seeing “American Idiot” at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center of the Arts. With a limited engagement from May 29 to June 3, make sure to get your student rush ticket, only $20 per student I.D., in order to get some of the best, as well as cheapest, seats in the house.

Afterwards, let me know what you think: Is the life of theater dead? Or is it only just beginning? You decide.