Runs Fri., Oct. 18–Thurs., Oct. 24 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 80 minutes.
“There’s absolutely no reason why this should work,” claims Michael Mayer at the start of this making-of doc about the musical American Idiot, which he directed and wrote the book for. But he’s being disingenuous: The conversion of Green Day’s acclaimed 2004 concept album of the same name into a stage show was as near an artistic sure thing as a musical can be. Its success transcends its presold audience; Green Day’s music—almost peerlessly among rock bands of the past couple decades—has an adhesive tunefulness, punk directness with a touch of glam. It’s an ideal conduit for delivering emotion straight into a listener’s head and keeping it lodged there. A ballad like “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is cousin—no, closer than that: incestuous step-sibling—to the score for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (And of course Hedwig’s composer, Stephen Trask, came from the same outlaw-pop world.)
So we needn’t be surprised as Broadway Idiot chronicles American Idiot ’s upward journey from the Berkeley Rep to West 44th Street’s storied St. James Theatre. Director Doug Hamilton combines lots of starry-eyed this-is-my-dream-come-true confessions from the actors (the Broadway production shipped in the Berkeley cast largely unchanged) with some interesting nuts-and-bolts details of how music director Tom Kitt converted the album’s solo songs into stage duets and choruses. Even more fun is watching the gradual seduction of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong from rocker to Broadway baby, from silent-partner encouragement to actually taking a role in the show for part of its run. (His character, in a cute coincidence, is named St. Jimmy.) Armstrong’s well-known Green Day angry-brat persona, the film reveals, is just that; in real life he’s become an affable, game-for-anything theater maven, more Neil Patrick Harris than Sid Vicious. But maybe that was inside him all along; the one true shock in Broadway Idiot lies in a home-movie clip of a cherubic, prepubescent Armstrong singing, of all things, “Send In the Clowns.”