If this whole rock-and-roll frontman thing doesn’t pan out, Billie Joe Armstrong could have a pretty decent career on Broadway. That much was clear on Wednesday night (September 29), when he took the stage as St. Jimmy in “American Idiot,”
the big-budget play based on the smash album he and his Green Day mates released back in 2005.
Armstrong, who is filling in for actor Tony Vincent (away on a “family matter”) all week, leapt into the role of Jimmy — a sinister specter who tries to corrupt protagonist Johnny (played by John Gallagher Jr.) — with aplomb, grimacing and goofing, menacing and mucking about, belting out songs with a sneer and never once screwing up a line (though, to be fair, he didn’t really have many). It may have been just his second performance (his first was Tuesday), but he already appears very much to be a natural.
Of course, when Green Day fans — and the odd tourist — filed into the St. James Theatre, it wasn’t exactly clear if Armstrong would be appearing. He wasn’t listed in the playbook (aside from his already established “Lyrics and Book By” credits), and it wasn’t until the house lights dimmed that it was announced he’d be filling in for Vincent. That news was greeted with a rather lusty round of cheers and whoops from the packed house.
Armstrong’s character doesn’t actually show up onstage until the middle section of “Idiot,” but when he finally did — stage left, perched on a fire escape hanging high above the actors — the audience went wild. Armstrong then leapt into action, descending two sets of rickety stairs and ripping into his character’s title track, “St. Jimmy.” Dressed in a dingy black jacket, his hair spiked, Armstrong prowled the stage, stepping in and around Gallagher (and the rather large cast of “American Idiot” dancers), before finishing the number, which was received with such a lengthy round of applause that the action had to be halted for an extra minute.
The rocker made several more appearances throughout, handing Gallagher’s character heroin, pushing him to abandon his newfound love interest (played by Rebecca Naomi Jones), always lurking in the background. He threw his weight behind numbers like “Last Night on Earth” and “Know Your Enemy” (the latter of which was particularly searing), and then, during St. Jimmy’s death scene — certainly not a spoiler if you’ve ever heard the American Idiot album — he removed his shirt (which prompted lots of whoops from the audience), carved a heart into his chest, blew his brains out with a toy pistol, then fell dramatically, expertly, to his demise. And as he was being carried off by extras, Armstrong got an extra second of mugging in, briefly coming back from the dead to flash a goofy grin, which, of course, was also met with laughs and applause.
At show’s end, Armstrong bowed with the rest of the cast, and after the curtain had risen again, he played guitar on the evening-ending “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” He then joined his fellow performers in a second bow, this time dipping so low that the people in the front row could touch his sweaty brow. He shook a few hands, blew a giddy kiss to the folks in the balcony and strode off stage, still beaming.
Like we said, the guy’s a natural.