It's Something Unpredictable, But In the End is Right

So here we are again. New Line's 76th musical, the incredible, iconic American Idiot, surprising us all by its shattering relevance to the rage and chaos of our 2016 Presidential election. The opening lyric ("Don't wanna be an American Idiot!") pops into my head every time cable news cuts to a Trump rally.

I can't think why.

We preview this Thursday and open Friday – and opening night is already sold out. We've always called this week in our process "Hell Week." In our early years, it was hellish. We'd move into the theatre Sunday, build the set, hang the lights, and Monday night, we'd run the show. No cue-to-cue to fine-tune the lights, and our musicians never played the score together till that Monday night. And then we opened on Thursday. I don't know how the fuck we did shows like Sweeney Todd, Floyd Collins, and Passion under those limitations, but we did.

Now, we have a much more leisurely, lower stress process. We loaded American Idiot into the theatre two weeks ago, and we've been rehearsing on the set these last two weeks. Which is such a luxury.

It's Sunday night of Hell Week. Sitzprobe is over, the band sounds phenomenal – and fair warning, friends, this really is a punk rock musical, and it will be the loudest show we've ever produced – the actors are pumped, the props are organized on the prop table, and now it's about putting all the pieces together.

It seems like it was so long ago that we started this adventure, that we learned this incredible score and these incredible vocal arrangements by Tom Kitt; but ever since the first rehearsal, we all knew that it wasn't going to sound really right on solo piano. Some of the ballads sounded decent, but none of the songs really sounded right.

Someone at rehearsal today asked me if I had had a picture of the finished show in my head all along. The answer is not even close. All I do is help our actors tell this story as clearly as possible, through staging, through discussions of character and relationships and themes, and through the other elements of our production.

I don't have a destination; I have a job, a process. At least the way New Line works, my work is just part of the puzzle. The coolest character work and detail work comes from the actors. A big part of the emotion comes from the musicians. A big part of that quest for clarity comes from the production designers.

But I don't care anymore if I know in advance what the finished puzzle will look like. If I can trust my collaborators and the material, if I know I've set us on the right road (and I usually do), then I can enjoy the fun of discovery along with my fellow adventurers. When we all discover the result of our collaboration together, it gives us all ownership in it, and our collaborative creation is richer and realer, in so many ways, than a single artist's creation would be. I just need to know I did my best job, and that I kept us all on the same road.

I've often heard that many sculptors think of their work as "revealing" the statue from within the block of marble, as just carving away all the parts that aren't the statue. That idea has always been fascinating to me, but I realize that's sort of how I think about our work. Our work is more about exploring into, rather than taking away from, but in both cases, the work of art is revealed over time and only with lots of work and artistry.

We're at that point now. We have revealed this beautiful, tough, powerful show, and much to my delight, not only does it work on a small-scale, it becomes a different kind of story, a more personal, more emotional, less epic story. When Johnny is having spasms after doing heroin, he's only about six feet from our front row. The intimacy of our theatre holds a giant magnifying glass up to the rage and grief in this story. We dare you not to be moved.

Monday night I will finally see our show in its final form for the first time. Dowdy and I will still polish this week, but nothing big will change. For the first time, we'll see this show with full band and head mics, on a finished set, with full costumes and props and video. Yes, we will use video, but pretty differently from the original.

Though it's often true to one degree or another, this time, the show is nothing without our band. Only the band can deliver the punk rock. We have a seven-piece rock band and they are blowing the roof off the Marcelle. Sue Goldford, our rehearsal pianist, and conductor/keyboardist for performances, is my hero. This isn't at all the kind of music Sue is used to playing, and I think it freaked her out quite a bit at first, but she's been so great, so dependable, and now that the whole band is here, she's a hell of a bandleader too. They sound so fierce! And extra big kudos to our poor house drummer Clancy Newell, who's trying to play punk rock, while I keep running over, going, "During that solo verse, you really have to pull back a little, or I can't understand the lyric." So far, Clancy has not reached across his high-hat and slugged me.

And what would we do without the indefatigable and unflappable Ben Rosemann, our sound designer, who is giving us both a legit punk rock sound and an excellent musical theatre mix so we can hear all the lyrics. We love Ben. He joined us a year ago for Springer and we hope he'll stick around a while.

Nothing worse than a rock musical with bad sound....

I'm feeling surprisingly little stress tonight. I'm not totally stress-free; after all, I'm steering this massive fucking ship of ours. But I work with the best, coolest collaborators I could imagine. No matter what mountain I give us to climb, we all climb it with enthusiasm and we have a really great time along the way.

There is nothing, nothing, better than making really great theatre with a bunch of really great theatre artists. It's better than sex. It's better than HBO, or my mom's banana bread (sorry, Mom), or blowing up a Donald Trump rally (what do you want from me, I'm doing a punk rock musical!).

Monday night, the show won't be at its peak; adding all these new elements will be a bit disorienting for the actors, but we've had so many run-throughs, they've got the show well in hand, so they'll be fine. Then Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we'll hit our stride, and then Thursday we get our one preview audience.

American Idiot offers important insights into a pivotal moment in our country's history, and at the same time, it's a kick-ass punk rock musical, using the only language that could adequately express the emotions of that moment. And this one.

Holy shit, this is gonna be amazing.

Thank you, Billie Joe Armstrong. I have had the time of my life.

Long Live the Musical!