Photos by Will Marks
In the main theater of the Ephrata Performing Arts Center (EPAC), actors are rehearsing for a quiet period piece entitled The Heiress. It’s safe to assume that Victorian dresses, frock coats, and oil lamps will soon adorn the stage and lend weight to the eloquent dialogue now delivered in practice. Unexpected, however, is the thundering punk rock soundtrack that is not just heard, but felt by everyone in the theater as the music of Green Day batters its way up from the basement to invade every corner of the building.
“I’M SORRY IF WE’RE TOO LOUD,” APOLOGIZES DIRECTOR RICH REPKOE, WHO LEADS THE PRODUCTION OF AMERICAN IDIOT, “BUT THERE’S JUST NO OTHER WAY TO DO THE SHOW.”
SONGS OF THE CENTURY
Below the theater, in a tiny studio room never meant to contain such volume, it seems that an energetic garage band has merged with an exuberant choir to belt out hymns of rage and disillusionment. This is the temporary rehearsal space for American Idiot , the rock musical based on the Green Day album of the same name, which opens at EPAC in July. “It’s a punk opera, a rage opera,” says Repkoe. “There are certain musicals that—boom!—set the tone for the next 20 years. Tommy . Jesus Christ Superstar . I think American Idiot is that piece for our generation.”
Rich Repkoe has wanted to bring American Idiot to EPAC for years, ever since he saw it on Broadway. “I always visualized the album so clearly,” he recalls, “and the show brought the story in my head to life on the stage.” His goal remained just out of reach until an ugly sweater party connected him with key members of The 1.21, a hard-rocking local cover band. They were exactly what Repkoe needed for the show—a dynamic act that could nail Green Day’s sound and hold their own on stage—and they loved the idea.
“I did the math,” remembers guitarist James Lipka. “If the show is about 75 minutes—that’s what, 140 Green Day songs?”
No stranger to theatrics (or eyeliner), Lipka and his bandmates dressed in drag for an all-Bowie show last Halloween (and again for an encore in April) and are enthusiastic to perform in their first rock opera.
EXTRAORDINARY GIRLS AND FAVORITE SONS
While The 1.21 pumps out punk rock, three young talents lead the cast through rebel choruses, decrying the empty promises of television and politics. Each is passionate about the music and the message of American Idiot , a message that speaks to our contemporary political climate almost as much as it did to the post-9/11 era. “I’m crazy excited for this show; it’s like a long lost dream come true,” says actor Sean Deffley, whose character Johnny is a jaded youth looking for escape. Deffley is an EPAC veteran, with shows like Avenue Q , Assassins , and Legally Blonde under his belt. “EPAC always does phenomenal quality work,” he adds, “but it’s when they have material that’s a little bit darker and edgier that they really knock it out of the park.”
Feeling lost and powerless, Johnny contrives an alter ego who is everything he thinks he wants to be: St. Jimmy. In the Broadway production of American Idiot , St. Jimmy was occasionally portrayed by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong; at EPAC, the role of the charismatic drug dealer is filled by newcomer Justin Monick. A lifelong fan, Justin first saw Green Day in concert when he was in second grade and has wanted to join them on stage ever since. Playing Armstrong’s role in American Idiot feels like the next best thing. “[American Idiot ] is a release of anger. It’s an expression of how the youth and the adolescents emerging into adulthood felt post-9/11,” he says. “I want everyone who sees it to feel something, too.”
In the city, Johnny falls in love with a free-spirited girl called Whatsername, played by schoolteacher Heidi Carletti. EPAC regulars should have no trouble remembering this Whatsername’s name; she’s been gracing their stage for years, bringing vigor and zest to performances of Cabaret , The Odd Couple , Legally Blonde , and more. Bright and bubbly in conversation, Carletti’s not an obvious match for American Idiot ’s outrage, but there’s depth in both her person and her character. “Just like [Whatsername], I experience feelings of insecurity and confidence, weakness and empowerment, despair and hope, disdain and affection,” Heidi confides. “She’s a real person, with real feelings.”
TIME OF YOUR LIFE
If you’re a Green Day fan, if you’ve never seen a rock opera, if you’re dreading the next election, if you look at the injustice around you and feel like we could do better—go see American Idiot . There’s a lot to take away from the show and it has the potential to be the kick in the pants we all need to go out and change the world for the better. I don’t think anybody expected a work of this magnitude, rife with social commentary and cultural significance, from the band who released the album Dookie … but let yourself be surprised. “It’s incredible to watch my favorite songs get perfectly stitched together to tell the story of my generation,” says Carletti, quoting “Jesus of Suburbia:” We are the kids of war and peace. “It’s gonna have you on the edge of your seat!” adds Justin Monick, with a wicked grin. Rich Repkoe leans back in his chair with a satisfied smile, clearly thinking forward to the July opening of the show. “I’m already thinking this might be the coolest thing I’ve ever been involved with,” he says. “I can’t stop thinking about it!”
Hair by Styles Underground
Makeup by Hannah Morris