‘American Idiot’ punks up Chicago


Courtesy Evan Hanover

Lead Aubrey McGrath with Janelle Villas, Dakota Hughes, Whitney Dottery, Elisa Carlson and the cast of “American Idiot” speaking to the crowd.


Wake up, Green Day fans—September is ending, which means the “American Idiot” musical is entering its final month in Chicago. “American Idiot,” by theater collective The Hypocrites, will run through Oct. 25 at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., and features two Columbia alumnae and a current theatre student. 

The Broadway play by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is adapted from the punk rock group’s 2004 album American Idiot, which won a Grammy award for Best Rock Album in 2005. 

The musical first appeared in Berkeley in 2009, then moved to Broadway in 2010, where it was performed 422 times before closing in 2011. During that time, Armstrong occasionally played the role of St. Jimmy. 

The musical has since toured the United Kingdom three times and appeared in Tokyo, Seoul and Sweden. The show won a Grammy for Best Rock Musical in 2011 and has been performed in Chicago twice before. 

Michael Kurowski, a senior theatre major and Green Day fan, is an ensemble member in the production and an understudy for the lead characters of Johnny and Will. Kurowski said he had never been an understudy before and realized the amount the role takes.

“I need to make sure I am ready to go at anytime,” Kurowski said.

Kurowski unexpectedly jumped on stage as Johnny for the show’s Sept. 20 performance after the lead actor called in sick. 

“That was an incredible time,” he said.

Kurowski said Andra Velis Simon, the show’s music director and the musical director of the Theatre Department, told him about the show and encouraged him to audition. Kurowski said the audition process was “very trying.”

“They really needed someone who could play the drums, guitar [and] bass,” Kurowski said.

He added he is versatile with many instruments and feels the show helped him grow musically.

Columbia theatre alumnae Dakota Hughes and Whitney Dottery, who graduated in May 2015, are also ensemble members in the show. “American Idiot” is their first professional show since graduating, and Hughes and Dottery said Columbia has prepared them well for the professional world.

“On the first day of rehearsal, I felt like I had my stuff more together than some of the people who were there,” Hughes said.

She said Columbia professors had a “tough love” relationship with students regarding memorizing lines and learning their parts, but it was an example of how it would be in the professional world and Hughes later appreciated it.

“In the end, it taught me how to be a more professional performer,” Hughes said.

Kurowski agreed that his Columbia professors helped prepare him for the transition from college to the professional world of theater.

“The basic stuff taught to me by my awesome teachers was invaluable,” Kurowski said. “It totally helped me through [the show]. It was surprisingly easy, and it wasn’t jarring in any way.”

Dottery said Columbia gave her a strong backbone to enter the professional theatre world. She attributed the smooth transition to the large Chicago theatre family.

“We are all learning as we go,” Dottery said. 

Hughes said the show has taught her the importance of working toggether as an ensemble cast. 

“We are all on it 100 percent of the time, all playing and onstage, no matter what,” she said. “It is like a cool club. It almost feels like you are creating it yourself as opposed to a director.”

Andra Velis Simon, the music director and a theater teacher at Columbia, has worked with The Hypocrites for five years. She said she loves working with her students in a professional show outside Columbia, and it is often 

the students’ first opportunity to do so and have that experience.

Velis Simon also said her students are good at seeing the whole picture of the show and how strong the ensemble work is, and they may have an upper hand because of their Columbia training and prior production experience.

“They get it,” she said. “[Everyone] is so talented. We have been really lucky to have a strong group.”

“American Idiot” runs through Oct. 25 at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 and available at www.the-hypocrites.com.