Did you hear? Billie Joe Armstrong -- that local punk who grew up to be the international punk -- just made his Broadway debut in our production of American Idiot. Tony Vincent had to take a break for a few days to attend to a family matter, so Billie Joe stepped into the role! This week only, he's playing St. Jimmy at the St. James Theater in Times Square alongside the rest of our cast.
Watch Billie Joe and his cohorts singing "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" during the curtain call on Tuesday night. Our managing director, Susie Medak, was there and she says, "The crowds were huge, and Billie Joe was awesome. Generous, scary, soulful." Which is, of course, perfect for the charismatic drug dealer he's portraying.
But don't take our word for it. You can read a review of his performance on MTV.com, or watch the accompanying video with interviews from thrilled fans who were lucky enough to be in the audience that night.
The New York Times notes that "Mr. Armstrong’s yearslong involvement in American Idiot, to the point of joining the cast, is without equal for a major American rock performer." Even better, our board member, Felicia Woytak, points out a comment posted about it on the Times' blog. An audience member penned a little ditty that puts the evening in context with the hallowed history of the St. James Theater:
ODE TO BILLIE JOE
We’d seen some people pull out flyers, did they think they would be good this week?
No there were many willing buyers, even us, and I’m a Gershwin geek
And as the lights went down we heard somebody say this stuff was quasi-punk
But as I listened to the sound I got swept in, well really who’d have thunk?
Some say he's singer more than actor, I won’t fight if that’s what someone claims
But I loved Billie Joe, John Gallagher and Green Day at the old St. James
Heck, I saw Patti walk the aisle there, she had us with “Sing out Louise”
Nathan wowed in The Producers; honey, pass the kish-kas please
Saw the Merm do her great Dolly there; oh bubbie, get your dad the pie
But then I saw this Billie Joe, I’m goin’ back three times, don’t ask me why
'Cause now your Mama listens to this stuff and Papa he gets mad and blames
The week that Billie Joe, John Gallagher and Green Day rocked the old St. James
It's going to be quite a week. Then Billie Joe heads off to Caracas, Venezuela to join the rest of the band for its South American tour. And American Idiot will keep on rocking Broadway for months to come.
Photo by Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images
Performances of Compulsion are selling out. Critics are raving. See for yourself:
On opening night, the audience leapt to its feet to give Compulsion a standing ovation -- and now the critics have spoken. Even the little man in the Chronicle is jumping out of his seat in delight! Judging by these reviews, you'd better buy tickets soon if you don't already have them.
Robert Hurwitt in the San Francisco Chronicle: "RIVETING... Virtuoso acting is just one reason to see Rinne Groff's Compulsion, which opened Thursday at Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage: Patinkin and his two castmates deliver the goods. But there is also Oskar Eustis' sleek, multifaceted staging and the way Groff revels in wrestling with knotty ideas in conflict. Her semifictional dive into one real Jewish writer's litigious battle over Anne Frank's diary is a compelling foray along a thin line between idealism and fanaticism... As his understandably fervent advocacy turns to vicious personal attacks on those he thinks are thwarting him – Lillian Hellman and Otto Frank in particular – Patinkin's descent into paranoia and the fanaticism of a true believer is as chilling as it is thrilling to witness... The spirit of Anne Frank hovers over the proceedings, intervening in unexpected ways, as Groff probes the psychology of politics and what happens when a person becomes an issue and a commodity."
Pat Craig for the Bay Area News Group (Mercury News / Oakland Tribune / Contra Costa Times): "STUNNING... It takes only seconds to forget you are watching Patinkin on stage. The actor completely immerses himself into the character of Silver, so the idea of seeing a celebrity on stage is barely considered… His story, based on the true-life author Meyer Levin, is told with puppetry, fantasy, comedy and drama in the aptly named Compulsion, a brilliant and emotional new play by Rinne Groff… Most striking, however, is that puppets (skillfully manipulated from high above the stage by Emily DeCola, Daniel Fay and Eric Wright) are used represent Anne and other members of her family. This allows the show to unfold on a fairly simple set, designed by Eugene Lee, with some stunning video projections by Jeff Sugg. It also lets director Oskar Eustis and his actors move seamlessly from fiction to fantasy and back, and to heighten the emotional explosions of the characters in the unfolding story."
Jerry Friedman on KGO-AM: "A MUST SEE... Berkeley Repertory Theatre opened its new season in its usual manner, with another winning production: Rinne Groff's gripping drama Compulsion, skillfully directed by Oskar Eustis, and starring the masterful Mandy Patinkin... Patinkin portrays his character magnificently with dynamic force and appears to be actually living the role. The other two members of the cast are equally superb... It is such a pleasure to witness the outstanding performance of Mandy Patinkin. It's an acting masterpiece! Compulsion will be heading to New York's Public Theatre next February, and is now playing at Berkeley Rep thru October 31st."
We kicked off the new season last night with the opening of Compulsion. The reviews aren't out yet, but the media is already talking about the show.
Asked why he chose to take on this role, Mandy told the Chronicle, "When I read the script, I was in a little cabin in Colorado. Oskar Eustis sent it to me, and it really hit a nerve in my gut, and I couldn't get over how much I related to it. I called up Oskar and said, 'You're not allowed to do this without me. If you do, I'll have to find some way to hurt you.' My reaction to the play was just very personal and very visceral. I'd rarely read anything I'd had that kind of reaction to, so I pulled out every stop in the world to try and make it happen."
Sue Fishkoff wrote about Mandy for JTA as well:
The intensity Patinkin brings to all his work stands him in good stead to play Sid Silver, the Levin character in this play. Silver, like Levin, is a man seared by images from the concentration camps and completely absorbed with bringing what he believed was Anne’s true message to the world...
“It’s about his obsession with an idealistic vision of humanity that this child represented, and his core belief that it must be respected, protected and guarded in perpetuity, and rekindled every day,” said Patinkin. “This play asks us, to what degree are we willing to go for what we believe in? Is the cost worth it? Are we living in a world of endless compromise?”
For almost every show at Berkeley Rep, one of my favorite assignments is to assemble pre-show playlists for our lobbies. The music should set the mood for the show. I read the script, do a little research, bounce ideas off of the literary manager, go crazy at the iTunes store, and rip a few iPods. For John Leguizamo’s Klass Klown, I pulled together a lot of Reggeaton and Hip Hop. For Concerning Strange Devices from The Distant West, I collected contemporary Japanese pop. For Compulsion, I’ve put together a collection of jazz standards and popular songs recorded in the 1950’s—including a variety of influential Jewish American artists, like the Gershwins, Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, and Al Jolson.
Generally, I like to throw in at least one cheeky reference to something in the play. In this case, because Compulsion’s character Sid Silver, like the real-life character Meyer Levin, is married to a beautiful French woman, I threw in Nat King Cole’s rendition of "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup" (album cover pictured right).
Without further ado, here’s the full pre-show lobby playlist for Compulsion (song title, artist, album title):
We're quite chuffed to tell you that Tiny Kushner met Big Ben this week, and the British press is buzzing about Berkeley Rep. It's the second time that Tony Taccone has taken one of our shows to London, and we're bloody proud.
A co-production between Berkeley Rep and the Guthrie Theatre, Tiny Kushner began a limited run at London's Tricycle Theatre on September 1 with its original cast and creative team intact. The Tricycle is the renowned theatre that is bringing us The Great Game: Afghanistan next month. For more information about this terrific transatlantic exchange, read our press release on crossing the pond.
Or check out what they're saying about us:
"A fireworks display of invention and erudition... Real-life characters and events receive typically surreal, freewheeling treatment from the playwright best known for his gay fantasia Angels in America. And Tony Taccone's Guthrie/Berkeley Repertory Theatre production zips along... The result is a quirky combination of biography and political and social history, in which the most colourful details often turn out to be true." – Time Out London
"Small but perfectly performed... If you've a taste for left politics, trippy fantasy, intellectual exhibitionism and kvetching New York-Jewish comedy, this is your night... This sporty premiere, directed by Tony Taccone, brings over from the US five mini-plays in one evening. The performers are beautifully balanced: Valeri Mudek in innocent blonde parts, Kate Eifrig edgy and alarming, Jim Lichtscheidl doing narratives and uncanny imitations of teenage girls, and JC Cutler in wilder character parts. They all play in perfectionist, passionate accord with Kushner’s intense style and wild imagination." – London Times
A little more than a year ago, I jumped the fence. I went from being a reporter and critic to being a marketing guy. More specifically, I went from the Oakland Tribune (and its associated newspapers), where I had been reporting on and reviewing Berkeley Rep for more than 10 years, to being the Theatre’s communications manager.
Among other duties, I have been running this blog, and I’ve loved it. I’ve loved the entire Berkeley Rep experience, and the admiration and respect I had for the Theatre has only increased as I’ve seen firsthand how incredibly dedicated the staff is in the creation of an extraordinary theatre experience. There simply are no better theatre artists anywhere.
Now I’m moving on and jumping the fence again – more like hop-scotching it. I’m going to work for the San Francisco Arts Education Project, but I’ll also be resuming my freelance writing duties for local newspapers and reviewing and interviewing on my TheaterDogs blog.
Won’t it be weird to go back to writing objectively about a theatre I’ve now worked for? I don’t think so. I respect Berkeley Rep far too much not to write about them with the same level of professionalism I would bring to any subject I’m covering. I’m as eager to share what’s great about Berkeley Rep as I am all of the other wonderful aspects of Bay Area theatre. And there’s always a lot of fantastic work being done here – that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about writing again. I get to be an ardent public supporter of Bay Area theatre artists and events. I’m not objective about Bay Area theatre and the people who make it – I’m a big fan and have been for 20 years now. Do I have opinions about productions, performances, scripts, and the like? Of course, and I’ll share them when and where it’s appropriate.
But I won’t lie. Berkeley Rep has always been special and will continue to be. That’s based as much on the work the company does as it is on the people who work here. I have had an incredible amount of fun in the last year getting to know the Berkeley Rep community and working on shows like American Idiot, Tiny Kushner, Aurélia’s Oratorio, and Girlfriend. I feel like I gained invaluable insight into the creation of great theatre, and I hope that insight can make me a more informed and more sensitive writer on the subject.
After a turbulent few years in journalism, I was lucky to land in the creative safe haven of Berkeley Rep. I’m going to miss it terribly, but happily for me, I’ll never be too far away.
Above photo: One of my all-time favorite theatre experiences anywhere was Girlfriend at Berkeley Rep. It was a genius script, genius score, genius cast, genius band, genius director, and genius creative team. That's me at right with actor Ryder Bach and musical director Julie Wolf. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.
Eric Wright (at right), one of the fabulous puppeteers working on Rinne Groff's Compulsion, is a man of many talents. He has worked with Mabou Mines and the Metropolitan Opera, among many other collaborators, and he co-founded, along with Emily DeCola (also a puppeteer in Compulsion) and Michael Schupbach, The Puppet Kitchen, a puppet studio in New York's East Village.
Some scenes in Compulsion do not require the marionettes, so the puppeteers can take a short breather. But Eric is the kind of artist whose hands are always busy. He tends to doodle -- sometimes about what's happening on stage, sometimes about what's happening in his imagination.
Eric graciously allowed us to share some of his rehearsal hall creations.
This is Mandy Patinkin as writer Sid Silver pounding out a letter to Walter Winchell.
Click below to see more drawings.
Happily, we can share a few of those videos with you. Here's "Letterbomb."
And here's "Whatsername":