OGDEN — Given the current divisive political climate in this country, staging Green Day’s “American Idiot” would seem either a very good idea, or a very bad one.
In any event, Good Company Theatre will present the musical Aug. 16-27 at the Ogden Amphitheater, 343 Historic 25th St.
“American Idiot” is based on the 2005 rock opera album by the punk band Green Day. Written by frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and Tony winner Michael Mayer, the musical tells the story of three friends who find themselves at a crossroads in their boring suburban town. It features popular singles from the Green Day album, including “American Idiot,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
“Through love and loss, addiction and revulsion, and a whole lot of angst and rebellion,” a press release from the theater explains, “the three men come to terms with living in contemporary America without being consumed by it.”
Green Day’s “American Idiot” was inspired by political events of the time, including the George W. Bush presidency and the war in Iraq. And while there are plenty of people out there eager to compare the musical with the current administration — the 2004 album again rocketed up the charts in advance of President Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom earlier this summer — director Austin Archer isn’t having any of this particular tub-thumping.
“That’s low-hanging fruit — ‘Let’s have 90 minutes of Trump-bashing,’” the Salt Lake City man said. “I don’t think we’d be saying anything new, or telling folks something they don’t already know.”
Archer says he simply isn’t interested in politicizing the show any more than it already has been.
“I’ve been pretty specific about not trying to push any agenda or talking points with this piece,” he said. “I think a lot of what Billie Joe Armstrong wrote in the record doesn’t need my help. I’d prefer if people draw their own conclusions from it.”
Timothy Swensen, who plays Johnny in the Ogden performances, believes “American Idiot” has developed this “weird stigma.” He said a lot of people who don’t understand what’s going on look at the album and find it highly political and anti-American.
“Even in the stage adaptation, it could be misconstrued as a little unpatriotic and highly polarizing,” Swensen said. “But this is not an anti-American show. It’s very much about finding what you believe in, and not just putting your head down and following the crowd. I think it’s a great story for now, for this time we live in.”
Adds Archer: The take-home lesson isn’t that you should distrust government. Rather, “American Idiot” is about being an American and feeling unfulfilled.
“What’s actually on the record and in the show is more just a story about frustration with life in general, and finding a place in life,” Archer said. “That’s a more universal theme that both sides of the aisle can get behind.”
The main characters, Tunny and Johnny, go to the big city in search of meaning and finding their purpose in life, according to Archer.
“Tunny can’t latch onto anything, so he joins the military and tries to find his purpose that way,” he said. “And Johnny escapes to drugs.”
For Swensen, who lives in Salt Lake City, playing Johnny is the role of a lifetime.
“This has been a dream role of mine as long as the show has existed,” he said. “I’ve lived and breathed this music. I listened to the original album all through my life, and I went to the ‘American Idiot’ tour in Salt Lake. The album has been a huge part of my life, and having the opportunity to play Johnny is a dream-come-true.”
Swensen believes the show will take Ogden by surprise. And he hopes it will grow the audience for theater in general and Good Company Theatre specifically.
“If you’re not a huge theater fan but like Green Day, you might come out to see it and have a new experience enjoying the performing arts,” he said.
Liz Corona, of Ogden, plays The Extraordinary Girl in the production. She graduated from Weber State University in musical theater, moved to Los Angeles for a time, then moved back to Ogden. Having returned, she says she’s “blown away” with how different Ogden is — and she means that in a good way.
“If Ogden were going to be a genre of music, it would be alternative,” she said. “We are so diverse, there’s a big eclectic group of us here. I really hope Ogden shows up and eats this show up.”
Corona also said the part in “American Idiot” is a new challenge for her, in a genre she’s never done before — rock ’n’ roll.
“They had to teach all these musical theater students how to mosh,” she said with a laugh.
Archer, who directed last year’s “In the Heights” for Good Company, believes “American Idiot” further raises the bar for theater in Utah.
“I think we really pushed the limits with ‘In the Heights,’ with what independent theater is capable of,” he said. “We put out a show last year that gave a lot of the professional union theaters a run for the money. And this year we’ve upped the ante.”
Archer calls the new production “quite a spectacle.”
“We’ve used every ounce of our budget, and I think it shows,” he said.
The director warns audiences that the musical deals with adult themes, and involves quite a bit of “raw language.” It is not recommended for children under the age of 15.
Still, Archer says he’s incredibly proud of his technical team and cast.
“They’ve been fearless and relentless,” he said. “This thing is 90 minutes of running, jumping and punching.”