Music’s Past and Future Meet on Broadway

As the current Broadway season draws to a close — shows must open by April 29 to be eligible for the coveted Tony Award this year — it looks like it might be the year of rock and roll, or at least a season that took some chances on heavier musical stylings.

Last season had rock music, in one form or another, getting much deserved attention from Tony voters and ticket buyers, including the now Pulitzer Prize-winning musical ‘Next to Normal,’ ‘Rock of Ages’ and the spruced up revival of ‘Hair,’ the musical that kicked off the first generation of rock musicals.

Now comes the highly-anticipated ‘American Idiot,’ a show built around the sounds of Green Day, set to open April 20; ‘Memphis,’ a production that, if not sporting an actual rock score, at least tells the story of rock music from a racial point of view; and the recently opened ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ a musical based on early rock and roll.

Watching ‘Hair’ last season gave a look back at the birth of rock on Broadway, something that many younger theatregoers were unable to experience first hand.  What has now become acceptable to Broadway audiences, in various degrees, wasn’t so easy to digest when ‘Hair’ transferred from the Public Theatre to Broadway in 1968.

‘American Idiot’ is the most in-your-face musical to hit Broadway yet, with a pure rock sound that makes previous “rock” musicals look tame. ‘Rent’ might have introduced the idea of a contemporary rock musical to twentysomethings, but Green Day’s opus goes one step further by force feeding its raw sound and energy down the throats of theatregoers. The MTV generation, if it still exists, will find plenty to cheer about, as should all Broadway onlookers. This kind of show has the potential to inject new life into New York’s creative community.

On a similar note, most Green Day fans weren’t around to hear what radio stations sounded like before rock and roll took over the airwaves.  With the latest form of anthemic rock getting ready to take over Broadway, there couldn’t be a better time to look back at the genre’s birth, and that is exactly what both ‘Memphis’ and ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ are doing, with the latter musical taking the more historical route to educate and entertain.

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ tells the story of an actual recording session in 1956 that gathered the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins at Sun Studios, the legendary recording studio that launched the careers of these musical heavyweights.  While Green Day and the various bands currently making the Billboard charts are inspired musicians, it was these four men that laid the groundwork for current rock artists.


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