Playhouse departs from normal material with ‘American Idiot’

Playhouse departs from normal material with ‘American Idiot’
The Patio Playhouse Theatre’s cast of Green Day’s “American Idiot” will begin performances June 24 at the Kit Carson Park Amphitheatre in Escondido. Photo by Matt FitzGerald

ESCONDIDO — When the Patio Playhouse Theatre kicks off its 50th season it’ll be with a bang not a whimper.

On June 24, the community theater’s troupe will bring Green Day’s angst-filled “American Idiot” to the stage at Kit Carson Amphitheatre.

“It’s a punk rock opera,” said Matt FitzGerald, the show’s director and Playhouse board member.

It’s also a noticeable departure from their normal repertoire that tends to fall along the lines of being family-friendly.

FitzGerald admitted that it’s one of the more daring productions they’ve done, especially musicals, with the intention of pulling in a different crowd.

But the story is one that has depth to it, FitzGerald said.

Green Day’s album, “American Idiot,” was released in 2004, which later inspired the musical that would appear on Broadway, earn rave reviews and win two Tony awards in 2010.

“There’s something they (Green Day) were trying to say from the very beginning. It just happened to route from the record to the show, instead of the other way around.”

“American Idiot” centers around three restless young men living in suburbia struggling to find themselves during a time of boredom and malaise.

The story is carried out almost entirely through the music of Green Day and lyrics from Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, with only a few snippets of dialogue spoken.

And despite the album being released more than a decade ago, FitzGerald said the message still resonates today.

“The message of the album is weaved into the story and the story, at its core, is a story they’ve been telling forever — which is it’s a story about growing up,” said FitzGerald.

The album came out while FitzGerald was attending San Diego State University and earning a bachelor’s degree in music. And at 34, he said he’s one of the oldest people involved with the production.

“I have people in the cast that are 16 years old — the album came out when they were 4 years old and it still speaks to them in the same way,” he said.

The cast, comprised of all volunteer actors (everyone at the Patio Playhouse is a volunteer), has come from all over the county, including Temecula up north to Chula Vista down south.

FitzGerald thinks this might be the first time the show has been performed in the county since a professional cast toured it in 2013 and that generated excitement in the theater world.

“I’ve been doing theater for a while and I’ve never had a cast locked in this tight,” FitzGerald said.

The show has been described as “high energy,” and “emotional.”

Other casts, FitzGerald has heard them say, is that the performance is like “P90X,” the musical, referring to the extreme home fitness workout program.

In fact, the cast of the Berklee Repertory Theatre (where the show premiered in 2009) had to workout every morning of each day so the actors could stay in shape enough for the performances.

In this case, FitzGerald said the music really helps the actors keep the intensity and energy of the performance at the right level.

“There’s something about the guitar riffs on this album that you need to be alive — they get you there,” he said.

For this particular production, it’s more about the actors getting enough sleep and eating right — the choreography is toned down a little from the professional version, he explained.

And while this production is his first attempt at directing a musical — rock opera or not — the experience has been a different beast, he said, over directing straight plays.

“It’s had to be more collaborative,” FitzGerald said.

Working with choreography Becky “Bex” Hurt, producer Jennifer McKenna and music director Charles Jirkovsky, has made the experience that much better, he said, because you’re allowed to bounce ideas back and forth between people to create a better end product.

The show is one of two productions that will be performed at the amphitheater as part of the Playhouse’s Plays in the Park series.

The other show this year will be “Beauty and the Beast,” in August.

“It’s exciting for me to have the honor of teeing us off with this show,” FitzGerald said.

“American Idiot” begins June 24 and runs through July 9 at the Kit Carson Amphitheatre, 3333 Bear Valley Pkwy. Tickets are $22 adults; $20 seniors, military and students and available online at patioplayhouse.com.

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