Interview: Michael Mayer, director of the Broadway tour of American Idiot

Green Day's rock opera comes to Boston
By MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER  |  January 12, 2012

“When I first went out to pitch this to Green Day and their people, I was just thinking there’s no way they’re going to go for this, because it’s just too nerdy or too geeky or too gay or whatever.”

Michael Mayer has a history of being all over the map in the choices of plays he has directed. From Chekhov's Uncle Vanya to the smash rock musical Spring Awakening, he's consistently ventured out of the comfort zone. It's no real surprise then he'd be the man collaborating with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong to bring an adaptation of American Idiot to the stage, where it received rave reviews during a year-long Broadway run and has now become a touring production, one that comes to Boston later this month for six days. Talking on the phone with the Tony Award-winning Mayer in New York, it becomes clear that his taking contemporary music to the stage is a notion that he hopes will help revitalize musical theater.

WHAT HAVE AUDIENCES BEEN LIKE FORAMERICAN IDIOT? I'M GUESSING IT ISN'T YOUR TYPICAL BROADWAY-SHOW DEMOGRAPHIC. We get a mix. It's less of the old-school Broadway people, but it's not strictly Green Day fans. One of our producers noticed the line outside the St. James Theatre waiting for the show to begin and compared it to the line for Phantom of the Opera across the street or Memphis down the block; those people all looked like theatergoers. And our line looked like people you'd see going to a popular movie — it's much more across-the-board: younger, older, different socio-economic brackets. It wasn't just rich white people or Asian tourists.

DO YOU THINK THAT BECAUSE OF THE GREEN DAY ASSOCIATION IT ALIENATES AN AUDIENCE WHO FEEL IT HAS NO BUSINESS BEING ON BROADWAY? I believe that the people who strongly feel that way don't actually know who Green Day is — so it doesn't mean anything to them. The people who might dismiss us in that way don't really know what they're talking about. They don't really know what Green Day is, and they don't really know the music. I've seen too many examples of people coming in with no prior knowledge of the material and really falling in love with it.

WHAT’S IT LIKE FOR YOU AS A DIRECTOR WORKING WITH MUSICIANS? I love it. With Duncan [Sheik], Billie, and also when I worked with Patty Griffin on 10 Million Miles, and now Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, they bring a very different perspective — they are all about music. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in the other part of it, but that’s where it all begins and ends with them. That’s where I keep going back to answer any questions that I have about who the characters are, what they’re trying to accomplish and what the basic emotional moment in any given scene is; I think the answers are all there in the songs.

YOU MENTION WORKING WITH COLIN MELOY, CAN YOU ELABORATE THAT PROJECT? It will be an original show, not something that uses existing Decemberists songs. We have been discussing lots of different ideas for a musical and actually spent time together outlining two different stories. That’s where we are at.

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