WILKES-BARRE — Listen to lyrics from the rock opera “American Idiot” and you’ll hear the frustration.
“On a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin …”
“The space that’s in between insane and insecure …”
“Oh, therapy, can you please fill the void …”
As a high-energy cast prepared earlier this week to stage the show — based on the music of the punk rock band Green Day — at Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, their fist-pumping, chest bumping, from-great-heights jumping opening dance number had defiance to match.
“I love the music, but it goes a lot deeper for me,” said Adam Zawatsky, of Wilkes-Barre, who plays the major role of Johnny. “People I’m close to have faced addiction and unplanned pregnancy. This is real life.”
While characters in the show face the problems Zawatsky cited, as well a war injury and post-traumatic stress, the actor sees in the show a message of hope.
“You have to find a way to cope and move forward. No matter how messed up you think your life is, it just takes one day to say ‘I want to change it’ and to move forward.”
Director Alice Y. Lyons said the show is a stage adaptation of a 2004 album of the same name but speaks to issues that are still relevant. “Our society today is so dependent on prescription drugs. There’s a prescription for everything. At the same time, we’re becoming so dependent on social media. How many people go out and experience nature? How many children go outside and play?
The central characters in “American Idiot” — Johnny, Tunny and Will — live “in the outskirts of a big city. It could be the outskirts of New York,” Lyons said. “They get bored in their hometown, the way anyone gets the feeling, no matter where you grow up, that you’ve done everything there is to do there.”
As the characters begin to make their way through life, wanting to resist what they see as brainwashing from the government and mass media, friends Johnny and Tunny head to the big city while a resentful Will stays behind with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather.
“The main character, Johnny, descends into heroin addiction,” Lyons said, explaining that when the character is under the influence, he’s represented by another actor, Luke Booth, who portrays “St. Jimmy.”
Tunny, meanwhile, will follow the allure of the “favorite son” — a military persona portrayed by Lyons’ husband, Lou — and join the Army, slowly removing his knit cap, jeans and everything but his underwear.
Soon he’s joined on stage by a line of male and female ensemble members, also stripped down to their skivvies as it appears they too are giving up their individuality to become part of a platoon.
“They’re very brave,” Alice Lyons said, praising the group for allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
Lyons also is proud of her cast’s hard work in getting ready for the show.
“Up till now I have not experienced, as a director, an adult cast with this much dedication and drive,” she said. Well before opening night she said, “I’ve been able to watch the show (during rehearsals) and make only extra-picky, perfectionist notes. I’m really enjoying it.”
Choreographer Sean T. Harris likewise has been enjoying the opportunity to supply several different styles of dancing to match the show’s “many diverse kinds of music. There’s punk rock and beautiful ballads, ’50s jive and regular rock ‘n’ roll.”
“It’s just wonderful for a choreographer. It’s on the same level as ‘Tommy’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ It has a lot of deep, deep songs and a couple fun ones too,” Harris said, adding he especially enjoyed designing a dance for “a female empowerment song, ‘Letter Bomb,’ just for the ladies of the cast.”
Female cast members include Shana Messinger as “Whatshername,” who gets involved with Johnny; Ericka Law as Heather, who takes the baby and leaves Will; and Ashlee Danko as “Extraordinary Girl,” an Army nurse who meets Tunny after he is wounded.
“Her strength is the match for his weakness,” said Danko, of Forty Fort. “She’s very pure and has her head on straight, for the most part.”