By Janelle Harb
The pit is in place and the guy-liner has been applied for the final show of the semester for Little Theatre, American Idiot. American Idiot is a musical based off of the original concept album of the same name by punk-rock legends, Green Day. The show begins with three friends, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, agreeing to run away from their suffocating suburban lives in hopes of chasing new adventures and the thrill of a more fast-paced, free life.
While the men begin to say their hometown goodbyes, Will’s girlfriend, Heather, reveals that she is pregnant. Therefore, he is left behind in order to repair his broken relationship and prepare for his future child while Johnny and Tunny move on without him to continue their journey. The pair recommence with their quest until Tunny soon becomes deluded by the idyllic glory (and girls) of the army, and quickly enliusts. In trying to cope, Johnny turns to drug use, which manifests itself into an alter ego of himself, the deranged, drug-dealing St. Jimmy. The rest of the show centers on each man’s individual struggle to find a purpose, or lack there of, in society.
As the musical is almost completely sung-through, the stories of the three men are told through a multitude of songs from Green Day’s discography. The show features songs from the entirety of the American Idiot album, as well as other international hits like “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life),” “Know Your Enemy,” and “21 Guns.”
For co-directors and seniors Nicolette Navarro and Matt Lunghino, directing a musical has become almost routine due to their past experience co-directing Little Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde together in 2014 as sophomores. “Since we’ve done it before, we know more what to do, what not to do,” Lunghino explained, “we’re also a lot better at managing stress than we were two years ago, which is probably the biggest part of it.
“When I agreed to do it again,” Lunghino continued, “I was apprehensive, especially after how much of a time commitment I remembered it being, but then as the process moved along, I was thinking ‘I can’t imagine being on stage for this,’ it’s like we were meant to be where we are. As much as it’s a fun show and everything, and I’m always singing these songs, I can’t imagine it looking any other way.”
“Even in just doing it again, you know what needs the most work already based on what happened the last time you did it,” Navarro added, “We knew that vocals would take the majority of time, then blocking, and dancing would be its own separate day, so we just knew what the formula was.”
As graduating seniors, Navarro and Lunghino have found a personal connection to the show that they had not before anticipated. “I think the story really resonates more than an audience member would think it would because it’s about three friends who leave home, and what’s familiar to them, to experience something new that’s unknown, and that’s something that we’re going through now as seniors a couple of weeks before graduation,” Navarro said.
“At face value, a lot of people might think the show is a little crude or offensive, because of language or drugs,” Lunghino explained, “but after really diving deep into this musical, and really going beyond the surface, understanding the relationships of the characters and their emotions at certain points in time, and then kind of relating them to your own life, which I didn’t think I’d be able to do.”
The lead duo of Johnny and Whatsername, Johnny’s enigmatic love interest, are played by freshman Mike Alessi and senior Megan Smith. As a freshman, Alessi was unsure as to whether or not he would even audition for the show in the first place. “It’s really surreal because one of my biggest concerns was walking in here as a freshman was not knowing if I’d even be able to get cast,” Alessi explained, “there’s so many other people here who are so incredibly talented and deserve lead roles because they’ve worked so hard. That’s something I really love about LT, it’s not about how long you’ve been her, it’s how well you fit the part.”
In order to portray these unique characters, both Alessi and Smith needed to completely step out of themselves in order to fully embody their character. “Whatsername is extremely different from me as a real person,” Smith revealed, “she’s a hard character, she’s tough, she’s very independent, but at the same time she really is longing for that one person who she can fully trust and love. It’s interesting to see how her character progresses throughout the show and how she opens up to Johnny and is eventually heartbroken.”
“I get to really step out of my comfort zone and really take on the role of a totally different person,” Alessi agreed, “for myself, I’m very laid-back and it takes a lot to really get to me and get me angry, so I really have to step out of myself and and get in this mindset of being seriously pissed off. That’s something that’s really fun, that’s a totally different experience for me, and something that I’ve never gotten the chance to do before.”
As per usual LT fashion, the set was designed and completely built by cast members, with the help of a few professionals. Nick Morelli, who plays Will in the production, was also one of the set designers and tech directors of the show. “I modeled the set design a lot after the Broadway version and what materials we had available,” Morelli explained, “It was a lot of me thinking of ideas, and Conor Shea [co-tech director] making sure they were actually viable. The directors had said they wanted levels, and that they wanted it to look really grungy, so I thought the best way to do it was to keep the set really minimal.”
The set itself consists of three differently leveled platforms that the cast members occasionally climb and jump off of, along with two rotating periaktos that display three different background images. “I’ve been in this club for three years now,” Shea stated, “but I’ve never had to do something so simple looking, but so intricate at the same time.”
Along with the countless hours put into the creation of the set, this same dedication was seen throughout the entire production. “I have never been in a show in LT where there has been so much dedication across the board,” Navarro stated, “we’ve had lights people who have been working since 7AM some days, we had alum from the pit who want to come back, the cast who’s willing to stay and take notes and do whatever we ask.”
To conclude, Navarro and Lunghino revealed one of their favorite moments from the show; the emotionally charged ending song, “Whatsername.” “It’s the final number and it just brings everything together,” Lunghino explained, “it’s this whole flashback sequence. Johnny sees all these memories of his friends, and he’s reflecting on his life and his decisions. It’s probably the most relatable point in the show, because we don’t often think back and reflect, we’re always just go, go, go. Especially now that we’re graduating, it’s a good time to just reflect, to think about your past experiences, the people you’ve encountered, how they’ve affected you, and how they shaped who you are today… and I always sob.”
“The last line of the show and song is ‘forgetting you, but not the time,’ how could you end your LT career on a better note?,” Navarro affirmed, no pun intended.
So break out your ripped jeans and black nail polish, and check out American Idiot, one of Little Theatre’s best productions to date, this weekend. The show will have premiered this Thursday, April 21st, but will also be showing Friday, the 22nd at 8PM, as well as Saturday, the 23rd at 2PM and 8PM in the Marie Maday Theatre in Lyons Hall. As always, admission is free, and for ticket inquiries and reservations, email LTclub@canisius.edu.