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Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong: 'American Idiot's' newest Broadway belter

September 26, 2010 |  3:13 pm

Green Day completed the jump from Berkeley to Broadway earlier this year when the musical inspired by the act's blockbuster 2004 album, "American Idiot," officially opened at the St. James Theatre in April. Now, Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Amrstrong will spend time off next week from his punk rock bandmates singing and emoting on the Broadway stage, temporarily stepping in for Tony Vincent to assume the role of St. Jimmy.  

Armstrong will appear in the musical Tuesday through Oct. 3, and then will join his band on tour in South America. Vincent will return to the production Oct. 12, having to briefly leave "American Idiot" for what a press release distributed today described as a "personal family matter." Following Armstrong's short run, understudies Joshua Kobak and Andrew Call will fill in for Vincent until he returns. 

In St. Jimmy, Armstrong will take on a pivotal role in the musical. Though not the ensemble cast's lead, which belongs to John Gallagher Jr.'s Johnny, St. Jimmy is the musical's drug pusher and all-around bad dude, sending the suburban-raised Johnny into a drug-addled spiral of nowhereness and empty relationships. By taking on the role of St. Jimmy, the good news for Armstrong -- and perhaps the bad news to audience members -- is that the rock star won't have to partake in any of the show's major simulated love scenes. But look for Armstrong to tackle moments of "Know Your Enemy" and "Last Night on Earth."

Green Day die-hards who have had a difficult time adjusting to the idea of the once snotty punk-pop act joining the ranks of the Broadway establishment will no doubt cringe a little at the idea of Armstrong cavorting onstage with the production's acclaimed theatrical performers. Tickets for the show, which as of the time of this posting are still available for Armstrong's week, start at $49, but a pair of good orchestra seats carry a final non-punk price tag of $262.50, once service fees are added in. 

Yet Green Day's own concerts of late have become a near-theatrical production themselves. The act is a long way from its 924 Gilman St. days, and no longer shies away from arena-rock antics such as pyrotechnics, sing-along ballads and extended medleys. The band even brought the cast of "American Idiot" to the Grammy Awards, and Green Day has already made a surprise appearance at the St. James Theatre. 

For this particular rock critic, I saw "American Idiot" in early September, and I went in a skeptic. A simple Google search will reveal that I have come down hard on some of Green Day's Broadway ambitions, but I can't deny that I emerged pleasantly surprised from the musical. Make no mistake, I would much rather see Green Day perform the songs of "American Idiot" in their entirety, and without the aid of the talented cast of "American Idiot."

Though any rock concert is somewhat staged, with a band channeling and capturing the feelings the songs conveyed at the time of writing, Green Day-sans Broadway is a sharper, louder, more aggressive and a stronger rush of emotions. There is the slight nagging sensation that "American Idiot" is a tidied-up Green Day, fashioning the outcasts in suits and ties for a day to not disappoint the grandparents. Nevertheless, though I don't pretend to be or have ambitions to be a theater critic, "American Idiot" doesn't significantly tamper with Green Day's arrangements in bringing them to the Broadway stage, with most of the songs performed with minimal theatrical adornments.  

Those of us at Pop & Hiss are no doubt stuck on the West Coast while Armstrong takes on the role of St. Jimmy -- although I'd be lying if I didn't note that my curiosity at how Armstrong handles himself onstage didn't send me looking for last minute airfares. So, those who catch the show, especially longtime Green Day fans, please report back. 

-- Todd Martens

Video above: Green Day with the cast of "American Idiot" at the 2010 Grammy Awards.