A Green Day on Broadway
In addition to the usual list of musical classics which fill Broadway theatres each season – from the traditional charm of Rodgers & Hammerstein to edgier fare like Chicago and Cabaret – there has been a steady stream of productions to win the hearts of baby boomers, shows with familiar, well-established songs known long before they took the Broadway stage. Everyone from Pete Townshend to Abba have found new audiences and stretched the boundaries of their solid fan base by reinterpreting their music for a new medium.
A less likely entrant to that club has been 1990s juggernaut Green Day. Although their concept album American Idiot may have reminded some of The Who’s similar excursions into musical narrative with Tommy and Quadrophenia, it may not have occurred to the band’s fans that a trip to Broadway was part of Green Day leader Billie Joe Armstrong’s career path. Six years after American Idiot was first released as an album, the show hit Broadway in 2010, bringing it with it other Green Day songs to round out the program.
Now touring the country, American Idiot comes to the Embassy’s Broadway series next week, bringing with it a young and talented cast which includes newcomer Michael Pilato in the role of Favorite Son. Less than one year removed from college graduation, Pilato has been steadily employed since he finished school in May, a boon for anyone in the entertainment industry. His road to the stage began during a visit with family in Long Island, where the Florida resident had his first taste of the arts.
“I was 11 years old, and I was visiting family and there was an arts day camp where they did arts and crafts and music. They also had an improv class which I took and generally thought I was pretty funny in it. So when I got home, I asked my parents to find something like that for me, and they found a summer theater camp.”
Pilato was also active in sports and enjoyed both hobbies through middle school, but he knew he eventually had to make a choice. By his freshman year of high school, he heard of a program that would chart the course for his further education and career.
“One of the directors at the arts camp was the head of a performing arts program at a magnet school where I could focus on theatre, and he encouraged me to audition. So at the end of my freshman year, I auditioned and got a full ride to finish high school there. I knew then it was time to take it more seriously.”
As he began to look for college programs where he could continue the work already started in Fort Lauderdale, he knew he wanted a change from his life in Florida. He researched various schools and their teaching philosophies while watching videos which showed their programs in action. He found himself drawn to Penn State University where he also knew a friend already in the program.
“I saw that the kids that went there were doing very well professionally, and it was a great program and a great community.”
Shortly after graduating last spring, Pilato found work in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania before securing his role in American Idiot which began just days after he finished at Fulton. Having been with the show since September, and signed for the tour through May, Pilato has been able to work steadily his first full year out of school. He has also been able to take advantage of what his Penn State professors called his “contemporary rock” voice for the part. While he says he’s well familiar with more traditional musicals through his college experiences, he feels an affinity for the newer shows like Joseph and American Idiot.
“I like being in shows that are accessible to today’s audiences. I love traditional pieces and in school became very familiar with shows like Carousel and South Pacific, and those shows were very bold in their own way when they came out. But I like being able to perform in shows that resonate with contemporary audiences.”
Pilato is one of three Penn State grads in the current American Idiot cast, and the friend who helped inspire him to attend the college toured with the show last year, providing him with great familiarity with the show and the songs.
“I think I saw the show about 13 times when she was in it, and so I was intimately familiar with all of it. I always liked Green Day and knew all the songs from American Idiot, but being in the show has definitely given me a new appreciation for Billie Joe’s music.”
Having spent his first year on the road, Pilato says he loves the travel aspect of his current gig, taking advantage of the opportunity to see the world.
“I really hadn’t seen anything other than Pennsylvania since I left home, so this has been great for me. We’ve been to Midland, Texas and Portland, Oregon, Washington state and the Midwest. We all like to sample the local foods and beers wherever we go, and my understanding of the world has been expanding a lot through this experience. It’s a great time in my life to be able to do this, and I wouldn’t mind doing more of it in the future.”
Of course, what he does in the future has yet to be determined. Pilato finishes the show’s run on May 25, and from there he plans to move from Florida to New York City to allow for more auditioning. It’s an uncertain life, but he’s ready to take the chance.
“It’s the life of an actor, you just have to hope that your next job will come soon. I know I’ve been very lucky so far. It doesn’t always go with way for all of us, and it won’t always go this way for me in the future. But I’ll just keep auditioning for new projects and hold on to the excitement that I’ve always had for it.”