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'American Idiot' musical to hit O.C.

"It's not over 'till you're underground

It's not over before it's too late

This city's burnin'

It's not my burden

It's not over before it's too late"

— Green Day, "Letterbomb"

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Punk band Green Day skyrocketed to fame in the 1990s, but is winning over an entirely new audience with its latest offering: a Broadway musical.

But their "American Idiot" is a far cry from "Camelot." It's a gritty, urban-inspired show that uses the same punk songs that made the band famous, and adds more than a smattering of simulated drug use, strong language and other adult situations.

"American Idiot," which arrives in Costa Mesa on May 29, follows the lives of three disaffected suburban youths: Johnny, Will and Tunny.

The country's residents are riveted by their television sets, and the boys want a way out. Johnny and Tunny move to the big city, where Tunny soon is brainwashed by an Army recruitment ad, shipped off to war, and wounded. Johnny, in the meantime, discovers heroin — and love. Passive-aggressive Will stays at home to support his pregnant girlfriend, but takes his solace in beer and pot.

The musical is based in part on Green Day's 2004 "American Idiot" studio album, and more specifically with the song that became "Homecoming."

The three band members spent a day in the studio creating solo 30-second songs, which later merged and connected into the song, and inspired a full concept album akin to The Who's "Tommy" or Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Michael Mayer, the director of the wildly successful modern musical "Spring Awakening," heard the album and approached the band about adapting it for the stage. It had a successful run on Broadway before being launched as a nationwide touring production.

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A relevant message

Recent college graduate Gabrielle McClinton plays the wild girl Whatsername in the show, Johnny's turbulent love interest.

McClinton added that, surprisingly, the show is appropriate for any adult who can handle a modern musical like "RENT" or "Spring Awakening."

"It's for the Green Day fan. It's definitely for people who are in love with musical theater. It's a bit like a rock concert, but also very musical, with all the harmonies and arrangements. It's for anyone who has fallen in love, or gone to war, or knows someone who has. It's for anyone who's stuck and doesn't know what to do with their life. I think it really hits strongly on every part of life. Anyone will be able to relate to this show. I've had so many grandmas come up to me, and are just fascinated. It's an awesome freedom that we have onstage; older people get really excited by it.

"Honestly, just come to the show with an open mind, and don't expect anything. There's a lot going on, so to get the most out of it, don't look at it too literally; just go on the ride with the characters."

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A lucky break

McClinton stumbled into the role while she was still studying for her bachelor's of fine arts.

"I went to a drama conservatory — Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh — and the program was incredible," McClinton said. "It really prepared me for the professional world, and when I did a showcase at the end of my senior year in New York a bunch of casting directors and agents were there. The 'American Idiot' casting people saw me and brought me in to audition. I just went in there and did what I needed to do. They were so supportive, and it was actually the most creative process I've ever been a part of when it comes to auditioning. I just felt really free and supported, and I could be myself."

McClinton said she was a Green Day fan prior to auditioning.

"I had heard of the show, but didn't know too much about it," she said. "In school, a bunch of people said I would love it. I knew I would be a fan of it; I got the cast album right away [during the auditioning process]."

McClinton said she has met Green Day band member Mike Dirnt, but hasn't met Billy Jo Armstrong or Tre Cool yet.

"Hopefully we will in San Francisco," she said. "That would be awesome."

McClinton said preparing for the show was an incredibly immersing experience for her.

"Honestly, preparing for it, you have to bring so much of yourself to these characters, because these are such real people; you kind of have to use yourself. It's very uniquely yours, which is what is so special about these characters.

"At first I did all this text work to figure out her entire back story. But at the end of the day, you have to make it yours, and bring yourself into it. So [the character's] falling in and out of love and dealing with drugs became uniquely mine, and I got to use all of myself; and that's why it's so liberating and powerful to play this character every night, because you're playing yourself. But whatever you're feeling that day, you have to bring into work. This show does not honor sickness. Even if you're having the worst day ever, you can't fake it and say, 'I'm going to be happy now.' You have to bring your real emotions and be yourself."

If You Go

What: "American Idiot"

When: May 29 through June 3

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa

Cost: $25 and up

Information: scfta.org

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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