6/13/10: Green Day at the Tony Awards
I haven’t seen a Broadway show for a ridiculously long time, but I want to see this. Obviously because it’s Green Day and the idea of putting Green Day on Broadway is an interesting idea, but also because of John Gallagher, Jr. *nods*
Unlike too many of its predecessors, American Idiot isn’t trafficking in nostalgia—the material is too new (and too bleak) for that. Nor does orchestrator Tom Kitt trade the album’s jagged edges for a Broadway-friendly pseudopop mire. In other words, the show makes the case that there need not be a chasm between the music that people hear on Broadway and the music they hear, well, everywhere else. With the arrival of Green Day and its punk-pop opera, Broadway takes another step toward the cultural relevance it lost half a century ago—another step back from the wilderness.
To understand how a trio of rock stars from Oakland could be good for Broadway, it helps to appreciate what a filthy art form the theater is, and has always been. Exorbitant ticket prices conceal—but can’t erase—the wonderfully vulgar DNA of every show that reaches these stages: they’re descended from the satyr play, the leggy blonde kick line, the seedy vaudeville routine. Theater is a magpie art that needs to refresh itself constantly with the energy that’s sloshing around society. When it doesn’t, you end up with the Broadway musical of the last few decades: an era in which Sondheim couldn’t write his darkly brilliant musicals fast enough to arrest Broadway’s slide into a bloated, self-referential style that made the place verge on being a punch line.
Two recent shifts have allowed Broadway to catch up to the music of the last 50 years. The first is generational: the people putting on shows, and buying tickets to shows, have grown up with rock. (In fact, the most telling sign of a new audience’s arrival wasn’t a rock show per se: The fact that Avenue Q, a dirty puppet show that riffed on Sesame Street, could sustain a six-year Broadway run meant that something major had shifted.) The other reason that pop musicals are thriving is that gifted artists have worked out a production style that suits the new material—no small feat when you realize how ridiculous the phrase “the new Broadway musical from Green Day” would have sounded just a few years ago. Even now it’s a little crazy.
To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s a “shift to rock Broadway” as it is that Broadway is simply reflecting the music of now. You could say the same 50 years ago, 25 years ago. Why else did we have Hello Dolly and West Side Story when we did? Why else did Elton John have his name on a bajillion musicals near the late 90s, early 2000s? It’s just time. And time is just moving too slowly for us to see it.