Research, rehearse and rock

UB Theatre and Dance prepares for production of 'American Idiot'


Bobby MacDonell attended a narcotics anonymous meeting.

The performer didn’t need help with an addiction; he went to prepare for the lead role in an upcoming musical.

MacDonell, a senior music theater major, is working hard to develop his characterization for the UB Theatre and Dance production of Green Day’s “American Idiot”musical.

MacDonell is playing Johnny, a guitarist and songwriter in search of meaning in post-9/11 America. The character is into heavy drug use, so MacDonell met with, studied and tried to understand those in rehab to prepare for the role.

“Like any role, this especially, if I encounter a character that does some pretty extreme things and pretty extreme drugs, I would resort to research instead of just ‘oh, let me try to do it so I know how it feels,’” MacDonell said. “I actually attended a narcotics anonymous meeting. It was really awesome hearing these people’s stories, watching them recover and [seeing] their desire to share their stories. The meeting, books, readings, pamphlets, interviewing and talking to people were super helpful in my characterization for the show,” MacDonell said.

The rock opera follows the lives of three childhood friends looking for belonging. The friends, Johnny, Tunny and Will, express themselves through selections from Green Day’s greatest hits, as the musical is based off the punk band’s 2004 album, “American Idiot.”

The musical is unlike other productions of today. The three leading men are all guitarists and shred along to the punk tracks throughout the show. Each track almost immediately follows another, giving the musical very little dialogue and a massive reliance on the cast’s vocal talent.

Leading a major production such as this is no small task. MacDonell and his co-stars have taken steps to make sure that they can find the reality in the over-the-top theatrics that come with the rock opera territory.

William Hin, a senior music theater and dance double major, took a similar route to prepare for his role. Hin plays St. Jimmy, an antagonist and Johnny’s alter-ego. St. Jimmy convinces Johnny to shoot up heroin and partake in unsolicited sex.

“I’m researching into, weird enough, how to do different drugs. Don’t look on my Google search because it’s going to look like I’m a drug addict,” Hin said.

MacDonell compared “American Idiot” to a rock concert, befitting a production that had its beginnings as a punk rock album by one of the word’s biggest bands. He claimed there’s going to be times when “the house comes down.”

Alexandra McArthur, a senior music theater and vocal performance double major, is playing the lead female role of Whatshername. She thinks the energy of the show sets it apart from other musicals.

“You can go to a Green Day concert or a big rock concert and you’ll see people on stage having a great time, rocking out and going crazy,” McArthur said. “But what I like about this show is that you take that sort of energy that’s very constant throughout the entire show, but you have to make it try mean something and have an actual story rather than just standing there and moving around.”

McArthur believes the musical touches upon topics that other shows don’t address.

“I like the show because it talks about things that a lot of people are really scared to just be up front about, like drugs. You learn about it when you’re in middle school but as you grow up it’s like ‘okay, this is just a bad thing. We’re not going to talk about it.’” McArthur said.

Nathan Matthews, UB Director of Music Theatre, is the show’s music director. Matthews is responsible for advising the singing on stage, the band and all other musical attributes of the show.

Matthews thinks the musical is “more topical today” than when it was first written.

“The show is political and it makes pretty strong statements. When you have a character standing on stage screaming ‘Sieg Heil to the president gasman,’ you got something going on,” Matthews said.

Taylor Burrows, a junior theater major, plays the role of Heather in the musical. She thinks “American Idiot” is unlike anything she’s worked on before.

“I’ve never been in a musical like ‘American Idiot.’ This is very much rebelling, anti-government and not as traditional as shows I’m used to being cast in,” Burrows said. “I think it’s turning out to be one of my favorite productions that I’ve been in. It’s just so different and allows me to tap into something that’s not who I am.”

“American Idiot” will hit the Center for the Arts stage from Nov. 16 to Dec. 3. Tickets are available at the CFA box office and on

Brenton Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at