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'American Idiot'

Green Day's rock opera coming to UNI stage

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:58 pm   ::  



Consider yourself warned.

“Anyone who comes to see it has to be ready to rock out,” says Alyssa DiPalma, one of the stars of “American Idiot.”

The 2010 rock opera based on Green Day’s 2004 Grammy-winning concept album of the same name is coming to the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls on March 27 and 28. The show won 2010 Tony Awards for scenic and lighting design and was nominated for Best Musical.

The details


It’s a punk-rock coming-of-age-musical as three lifelong friends -- Johnny, Will and Tunny -- dream of leaving suburbia for new adventures in the big city. Fantasy quickly spins into harsh reality before the friends find their way back.

“They all get separated and end up learning a lot about themselves and growing up really quickly,” says DiPalma, 23, who is enjoying her first professional gig as Whatsername, the city girl who captures Johnny’s heart.



The action plays out through vigorous song and dance, full of raging angst playing out amidst a gritty backdrop of a new day. But it’s more than just sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and speaks across audience age demographics.

“It’s a very, very human story,” DiPalma says. “It was written as a response to the over-saturation of media after 9/11 happened, so it really speaks to my generation and the kids who have grown up in this very fear-based world.

“It really reaches out to everyone,” she says, “in the sense that it’s OK to get out of that mindset of being afraid all the time and pushing through all that and making mistakes, coming back home and recharging. That kind of human experience speaks to everyone.”

Johnny is the “Jesus of Suburbia” character from the Green Day album, and falls into a drug-induced downward spiral while falling in love with Whatsername. She is the good, trying to counter the bad.

“I’ve heard her described as a freedom fighter, which I kind of love,” DiPalma says. “She’s super passionate about the way she lives her life. She doesn’t really answer to anyone but herself. She loves very fully and falls in love with Johnny. (She) is the angel on Johnny’s shoulder, as opposed to the devil on Johnny’s shoulder, which is (the character) St. Jimmy. She’s a great influence on him.”

Johnny, however, is not good for her.

“He’s a bad influence,” DiPalma says. “He brings her into his world. There is scene where he shoots her up (with heroin). That’s not the most wonderful thing they do together, but it’s him bringing her into his world and showing her who he is. Although it scares her, she loves him so much that she allows herself to experiment and experience that to be closer to him.”

Her redeeming qualities are her salvation.

“She’s extremely compassionate, very, very strong and very independent,” DiPalma says. “She lives her life her own way. Her independence is probably her best quality.

Her good intentions, however, are not enough for Johnny.

“She’s not strong enough -- the drugs are stronger, but she goes out with a bang,” DiPalma says. “She goes out with a very strong, powerful, feminine moment, where all the women onstage sing this very, very strong song called ‘Letterbomb,’ that shows Johnny how he messed up and throws it in his face a little.”

DiPalma, a Jersey girl who studied musical theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, moved to New York two years ago to embark on her career. She’s still finding her way as a city girl, so channeling her inner Whatsername has been challenging.

“She’s the woman that every girl who moves to New York wants to be,” DiPalma says. “I’m still trying to find that woman, so it is kind of a stretch. It is a push to get to that place, find that girl and find that strength in my own femininity and my own sexuality, in order to find her.

“She knows exactly who she is. I, as Alyssa, have not quite gotten there yet. It’s really fun to push myself and experiment with that. It really translates into real life, which is kind of exciting.”



While “Letterbomb” used to be DiPalma’s favorite Whatsername moment, DiPalma is now embracing a rather unlikely moment.

“I’ve found myself really enjoying the quieter, happier moments in the show, because ‘Letterbomb’ is a very angry song,” she says.

“It’s nice to bring it back to the loving moments that Johnny and Whatsername experience together. For example, the scene when he shoots her up with heroin actually turns into this very beautiful pas de deux-ballet kind of thing. It’s this really beautiful partnership between them -- the give and take -- and it’s one of the most beautiful moments in the show,” she says.

“It was the hardest moment for me to learn, for sure, but it’s become this really wonderful release of energy, because it’s so fluid and loving.”

Performing this role is a dream come true for the singer-dancer-actress, who was bitten by the acting bug when she played the title role in “Alice in Wonderland” in sixth grade.

A Green Day fan, she saw “American Idiot” on Broadway about three years ago, and that was it.

“I loved the music before the show even came out. I had the CD when I was in ninth grade,” she says. “Then I saw the show and I saw Rebecca Naomi Jones play Whatsername. I fell in love with the part, I fell in love with the role, I fell in love with everything about the show. I told my friend that I was sitting next to, that I had to play that part someday.

“That was really, really a dream come true. The show, itself, is so much fun. It’s just an assault on your senses. You just want to be up there when you’re watching it.”

This heady, first tour has taken DiPalma and the cast first to London last fall, then to the U.S. in January. It’s slated to close in mid-June in Las Vegas, and if the tour isn’t extended or DiPalma’s contract isn’t renewed, she’ll head back to New York and “start auditioning again.”

She’s young, single and free to go wherever the wind takes her.

“I’m just concentrating on my career and my work -- that’s my one true love,” she says. “It’s the only love that won’t let you down.”

Extra: Green Day fans have another chance to hear the band’s music this month. The Green Day concert originally slated for Feb. 1 at the I Wireless Center has been rescheduled for March 29.

 

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