"American Idiot" opened Tuesday night to strong enough reviews in a weak theater season that it is now one of the front-runners to win best musical at the upcoming Tony Awards. The production is based on Green Day's mega-hit CD of the same name, which contended for five awards at the 2005 Grammys. While it won for best rock album, it lost the big prize of album of the year to Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company." However, in 2006, one of its 13 tracks -- "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"-- took home another top Grammy Award as record of the year for longtime bandmates Billie Joe Armstrong, Tré Cool and Mike Dirnt.
Armstrong, who writes all the lyrics, worked with theater director Michael Mayer on the book of this musical in which a trio of young men from the suburbs confront adulthood in different ways. Mayer -- winner of the 2007 Tony for helming best musical champ "Spring Awakening" -- cast John Gallagher, Jr. (who also won a Tony for that show) as one of the three leads. Joining him are Tony nominee Stark Sands ("Journey's End") and rising star Will Esper.
Like "Spring Awakening," "American Idiot" explores the theme of a disenfranchised generation. With their harder edges, both shows harken back to "Rent," which rocked the Tonys in 1996, winning four awards including best musical. And "Rent" also won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for drama, only the seventh musical to do so; this year,"Next to Normal" became the eighth.
Unlike "Rent" -- which boasted original music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, who died shortly before the show's debut -- "American Idiot" is a "jukebox" musical, taking preexisting songs and crafting a story around them. So too are three of the other leading contenders for the four best musical slots at the Tony Awards -- "Come Fly Away" (songs sung by Frank Sinatra); "Million Dollar Quartet" (being Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley); and "Sondheim on Sondheim" (as in Stephen).
Photo: "American Idiot" playbill. Credit: St. James Theater