Is Billie Joe Armstrong in 'American Idiot' a Broadway star in the making?
Pop & Hiss had a case of New York-envy this week, when Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, a California boy, no less, had a brief stay on Broadway. Armstrong, filling in for star Tony Vincent, took over this week the role of drug-pushing evil-doer St. Jimmy in "American Idiot," the theatrical production inspired by the 2004 Green Day album of the same name. Times staffer Pamela Wilson, however, made the cross-country trip, and filed this guest post for Pop & Hiss on her reactions to Armstrong's jump to Broadway.
Birthed in punk, the Green Day frontman has become a fine rock 'n' roll showman. Still, he's no doubt an artist more used to holding an audience of 20,000 in the palm of his hand than interacting with a cast of professional actors. But on Wednesday night on the stage of the St. James Theatre in New York, he seemed more than comfortable on Broadway, coming off like a pocket-pistol Ethel Merman.
Filling in for regular scene-stealer Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy in "American Idiot," Armstrong had no problem remembering the lyrics, seeing as how he wrote them. As the drug-pushing alter ego of the main character, Johnny, played by Tony-winner John Gallagher Jr., Armstrong did all the choreography and stage business required for the part, including stripping off his shirt and carving a bloody heart into his chest before shooting himself in the head with a toy gun. "Bang!"
But his St. Jimmy is a very different animal from Vincent's, whose sinewy physique menaces with a smoldering sensuality. If Vincent's St. Jimmy is a starving wolf, Armstrong's is a rabid mutt, whose brutality is masked by a playful goofiness that makes his needy attachment to Johnny all the more insidious.
With his half-shaved head and torn fishnet shirt, Vincent's Jimmy has an overtly sexual interest in wresting Johnny from the arms of Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Whereas Armstrong's, with his spiked hair and dirty black vest, is more like a demonic Peter Pan, trying to keep Johnny from growing up by sabotaging his one promising relationship. It was fascinating to see how two takes on the same character could be so different and yet so winning in their own ways.
Armstrong's presence didn't only change the dynamic onstage, it changed the offstage experience as well. Two weeks earlier, after the show, cast members came outside and hung out with a few fans, signing autographs and taking pictures. Wednesday, it was a mob scene. With barricades and heightened security, every time the stage door opened a scream of Beatlemania proportions erupted from the crowd.
When Armstrong did finally emerge, he graciously signed a few autographs before being swallowed up in a black SUV and disappearing like a spark in the night.
-- Pamela Wilson
Photo: Billie Joe Armstrong with the cast of "American Idiot." Credit: Getty Images