Green Day’s hit musical American Idiot is touring Australia over the coming months. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong (lyrics) worked with Tony award-winning Michael Mayer (book & lyrics) on this story of three young men struggling with today’s issues in a post-9/11 world.
The music utilises all songs from their ultra-successful 2004 concept album “American Idiot”, a few b-sides, as well as some songs from 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown”. Green Day band members have referred to “American Idiot” as a punk rock opera and the album quickly developed the reputation of protest art.
The stage adaptation hones in on the characters and storyline the album developed, with themes that Phoebe Panaretos – playing Whatsername in this Australian tour – thinks are incredibly relevant to us all today.
The Brisbane season of American Idiot in 2017 earned Panaretos a Helpmann nomination for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical. While reprising her role in the national tour, Theatre People were lucky enough to speak with Panaretos as the show arrived in Adelaide.
What are the differences from the initial season to touring now, and are there any challenges that come with touring?
Probably the biggest difference will be is it’s bigger and better. I mean, the show has a massive AV component, and the lighting was nominated for Helpmann, but the AV, the lighting, the rock band, the cast, it’s just bigger and better, like we’ve got some more cast members. The AV component of the show, there’s just been more detail and more time that’s been dedicated to that, so that part of the show is even better and it was such a spectacle as it was in Brisbane. I think having this time, from when we did it back in March in Brisbane, to put it all back together again – it’s a bigger and better version. It’s such a spectacle, I think.
What’s it like working with such a range of performers?
Look it’s awesome, it’s not really your conventional musical, so I’m excited to work with proper rock stars – I think that’s really cool. It’s a really young show. It’s a story about twentysomethings who are on the brink of adulthood, really figuring out what paths they’re going to take in life – the three main characters, they’re all living in suburbia in America, unhappy with the leader of their country, and what’s happening in the world. At the moment, that’s Trump, so this story couldn’t be more relevant.
The guys [Green Day] wrote the album when Bush was president, and they were equally as angry then – that’s why I think the guys Shake and Stir that produce the show this time, it’s such a clever thing to do at this time, because the music just is so relevant again, if not more so, I mean Trump’s a fucking idiot. It just really works.
As Aussies, we’re so affected by American culture that even us as performers doing the show, we feel like we have a voice singing this music as well. We’re so involved in American politics and media and I think a lot of Aussies are just as angry. It feels really good to sing all that stuff. It feels great to be among a group of like-minded people who love rock music. I think the show’s really different, you know, not your conventional musical, there’s a lot of exciting things that come with that.
How does American Idiot differ from other musicals?
It’s not boy meets girl, happy ending, we all have a sing and we’re all up dancing at the end. It’s actually quite tragic, this story. There is a beautiful love story in the middle of it all, but of course, what I really love about the show, is it’s real. In real life, people fuck up and they don’t always make up. And I think having done a few musicals before, that’s what I like the most about this one, it’s really naturalistic and the story is sort of ‘real’.
The lead guy meets my character, Whatsername, and they sort of get in this sort of whirlwind of love and sex and drugs, and in the end tragically the drugs take over and my character decides she’s got to get out and she doesn’t want to stand by and watch this person she loves kill themselves. It’s quite tragic, it’s not your normal musical where they make up and it’s all sunshine and rainbows – she’s like ‘you’re an idiot’ and she gets out of there. It’s tragic.
It’s hard to do something so dark especially in musical theatre, I’m used to going home with a smile on my face. Like ‘oh that was fun’ and now I’m sort of like ‘I need a drink after that’.
A good point about it from being different to other musicals is that it’s a real rock opera, I’d even struggle to say it’s a traditional musical. We’ve got this awesome rock band on stage and it’s just pumping, it’s loud, it’s messy. I think that’s a big component too.
Do you listen to any music before a performance to get ready?
We’ve always got rock playing, it even plays pre-show in the house. We’ve got a lot of rock music playing. I’m a big fan of The Rolling Stones, so I’ll play them. “Gimme Shelter” is my go-to actually. The show itself has an awesome playlist that our music director Glenn Moorhouse has put together and as the audience walks in, they’ll hear all this punk and quite a lot of classics and will be like ‘oh, this is awesome’.
Have you always loved Green Day or have they grown on you?
My sister was a massive Green Day fan, I sort of was more of a musical theatre loser, maybe not loser, but you know, a bit of a dork, I was into all the show tunes and what not. But my sister was really into them, so when the musical came around, I knew all the songs, it’s only really been through doing the show that I’ve become a massive fan and I’m a really big fan of their music and what it stands for and what it means. I’m totally on board, I’m a big fan.
Have you been to all the cities you’re touring to and are there any sights you’re excited to see?
I haven’t been to Perth and I haven’t been to Darwin [or Adelaide], and I’m pumped. I’m excited to just go to these places in general, we don’t really have that much time to be a tourist, it is what it is. I’m excited to see some different cities, and take a musical to some places that don’t normally get a lot of the big shows. I think everyone’s most excited about Darwin, to be honest. It’s just like – when do you do a musical that goes to bloody Darwin? Like that doesn’t happen.
How does Whatsername differ from other roles you’ve played?
Tying in with what I’ve said about the show, Whatsername, the role is really strong and I think for a woman in musical theatre, that’s not too common. She’s really aggressive and strong, I sort of feel like I’m unleashing something in this role, there’s a real fire in her, and she stands up for herself and she’s aggressive and assertive – and especially as well with what’s going on in the world at the moment with #timesup and everything, it’s awesome to play a character like this that’s treated a little bit shit, and there’s a massive number in the show called ‘Letterbomb’ that Whatsername performs with the other women in the show that come on and support her and it’s basically her just tearing the lead guy to shreds. She leaves him with nothing left. I come off and there’s like snot all over my face and my hair is everywhere and I’ve just never played a role where I get to just be so wild and free.
… It’s always about being pretty and that sort of stuff.
It’s always about being fucking pretty, it’s so boring! That is a massive thing. She’s not pretty and she’s not lovely and dainty, it’s not this lovely little thing. She’s messy and wild and strong – all the women in the show actually, we talk about it all the time. It is a show about the boys, it is a tale about these three guys, but the women that in the show, anytime they’re on, they’re strong and assertive and they hold their own next to the men which I think is really awesome and doesn’t always happen. So I’m loving that, it feels great. Yeah, it’s cool.
What are the top three things you love about American Idiot?
Just working with this particular group of people – I think the cast and creatives, just everyone is really easy to work with and everyone so incredibly talented, I would have to say that. The talent that’s around me, it’s like nothing I’ve worked with before, everyone is really on board with telling this story and everyone’s really excited by it and loves it and that’s a really great thing to be around. Everyone loves it just as much as me.
Obviously, the music is probably my second thing. The music’s awesome, it allows a lot of freedom within the way we deliver it because it’s not perfect musical theatre, it’s rock music, there’s a lot of creative license there with the delivery, especially every song I sing, a man originally sang it. It allows me to get a little bit gritty with it which is fun.
Third, I think the sheer individuality of the show and how different it is. I’ve never done a show like this, I’ve never auditioned for a show like this, I don’t know if I ever will again, and I’m just really in tune with what a rare opportunity this is to do a show that’s so relevant and current and has something to say and I think being a part of something that’s so different is really exciting.
Is there a specific demographic you’d recommend this show to?
That’s actually probably another thing that I love about it – I look out into the audience and I see people my age. That’s super cool.
We had our matinee at the Opera House last week and I looked out into the audience, and was like ‘holy shit! They’re all young, they’re all my age!’. I think that’s awesome.
It’s relevant for all ages and I think anyone who can see an M rated movie can come and see this show. It’s not suitable for young-young kids, there’s drug use on stage and there’s a sex scene, but I think all ages will enjoy it, and I think some older people too – they’ll enjoy it because it’s sort of giving them a little insight into what young people are going through at the moment.
Panaretos is joined by an impressive cast –
In the shared role of rebellious and charismatic St Jimmy is Aussie rocker Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson and two of Australia’s most-loved rock frontwomen Sarah McLeod from The Superjesus and Adalita from Magic Dirt.
Joining Phil, Sarah and Adalita is Linden Furnell as Johnny, the protagonist of the story. Linden was the winner of the 2016 Rob Guest Endowment Award and was last seen in the Australian tour of Kinky Boots and in the sold-out seasons of RENT.
Rounding out the cast are Connor Crawford as Tunny, Kaylah Attard as Extraordinary Girl, Alex Jeans as Will and Ashleigh Taylor as Heather, and as ensemble: Erin Clare, Christopher Scalzo, Nicholas Kyriacou, Kyla Bartholomeusz, Maxwell Simon, Vidya Makan, Phoenix Mendoza and Kuki Tipoki.
American Idiot tour dates are as below or on the website: www.americanidiotlive.com.au
Her Majesty’s Theatre
From January 19 – January 28 2018
bass.net.au or Ph: 131 246
JIMMY to be played by PHIL JAMIESON & ADALITA*
From February 2 – February 11 2018
ticketmaster.com.au or Ph: 136 100
JIMMY to be played by PHIL JAMIESON & ADALITA*
From February 23 – March 11 2018
ticketmaster.com.au or Ph: 1300 11 10 11
JIMMY to be played by PHIL JAMIESON, SARAH McLEOD & ADALITA*
Playhouse Theatre, QPAC
From April 13 – April 21 2018
qpac.com.au or Ph: 136 246
JIMMY to be played by PHIL JAMIESON & SARAH McLEOD*
Playhouse, The Darwin Entertainment Centre
From May 3 – May 6 2018
yourcentre.com.au or ph: 08 8980 3333
JIMMY to be played by SARAH McLEOD
*For a full performance schedule with details on the rotational role of St. Jimmy please refer to the ticketing outlet or www.americanidiotlive.com.au
Photo credit: Dylan Evans