Punk shows are theatrical in their own way, but not all theater is punk. Except in the case of Green Day's "American Idiot."
Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and director Michael Mayer developed the musical, crafting a plot using songs from the band's two rock opera studio albums, "American Idiot" (2004) and "21st Century Breakdown" (2009).
Its a story of three young people navigating the post 9/11 landscape under the administration of President George W. Bush.
Pamyla Stiehl, an assistant theater professor, is directing the University of Montana School of Theatre & Dance production. She views that time period as a turning point in politics and media that we're still living under. After all, the school finalized its season not long after the election of Donald Trump.
A Green Day fan who lived through the era, Stiehl stays true to the time period and the band's vision: a live rock band on stage, punk clothes, movements, profanity, middle fingers and all.
She said she's proud of the student cast, many of whom were just toddlers in the year 2000.
It's certainly a different genre of musical than the school typically presents, which raised questions about preparing the students. Singing in rock style night after night for weeks on end can burn out the vocal cords, so finding a balance was important. Then there's the themes: "Do they have the style and the nasty guts to attack the content in the show?" she said.
She's impressed with the way they've dived into the show while balancing heart with the nihilistic attitudes of the characters.
Curen Feliciani, a junior acting major, plays Will, who stays behind in the suburbs with his pregnant girlfriend and abusing drugs, while his friend Johnny (Diego Kjelland) goes to the city.
Feliciani, 22, said it's a style of musical that isn't performed at UM — or in Missoula — very often. The other musicals he's done in town are UM's "Legally Blonde" and MCT's "Happy Days."
It requires stamina, too. It's almost entirely sung-through, except for a handful of times that lead character Johnny recites lines from his letters and journals.
The school hired keyboardist-composer Josh Farmer as musical director. Farmer is bringing his eponymous band, with Checkers Barker II on drums and Jesse Christian on bass. A former member and guitar instructor at UM, Tommy Pertis, returned from Florida especially for the production.
Farmer's group typically plays a mix of rock, pop, jazz and soul with a lot of improvisation. "American Idiot" is "almost the opposite end of the spectrum," he said. It's 90 minutes straight, played in the style of Green Day's album, he said. They have to stick to the book, which combined many of the songs into medleys, and have specific beats for the cast to hit.
"It's structured and there are moments that build up, and moments that need to be that way every night," he said, calling it a challenge but a fun one. They're playing onstage on a 6-foot riser in the Montana Theatre, a large venue that's rarely home to a rock performance.
Stiehl, who has a background in theater and dance, said it was something of a mantra that there would be classic musical-style dance in the show.
She said the choreography is raw and visceral, except for one song in which they mock Spice Girls-era music video moves. She would hesitate to even call it dance: It's raw, physical movement that's been timed to the music and arc. Feliciani compared it to the "edgy and sharp" movements you'd see at a rock concert.
The set was designed by Alessia Carpoca, a theater professor and head of design and technology. Stiehl said it's jungle gym-like scaffolding they can climb to perform on a different level.
The entire backdrop will work as a projection screen, where they'll blast out imagery culled from 2000s-era media, plus captions to help explain the show's action.
There's one last rock-show flourish: Mark Andrews designed lighting that mimics a rock concert, with strobes and haze and smoke.