Northwestern alumna directs a musical based on Green Day album


Zack Laurence/The Daily Northwestern

Charlie Oh, who is hoisted up, and the cast rehearse for “American Idiot.” The show opens on Oct. 16 at the Ethel M. Barber Theater.

Yaqoob Qaseem, Reporter

Lili-Anne Brown (Communication ‘95), artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago, is back on campus for the first time in 20 years to direct Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

The nontraditional musical, based on Green Day’s album of the same title, tells the story of three friends from the suburbs who face disillusionment with America and search for meaning in different ways, said Charlie Oh, a Communication senior who plays Johnny in the show.

“It’s amazing being back at Northwestern,” Brown said. “It gives me a lot of perspective on myself and where I come from and how things have changed and what the next generation of theater artists are looking like.”

Brown said she has been working with college students for about a decade and hopes to help rising theater artists.

“It’s an opportunity to give back, so I’m really relishing that,” Brown said. “There’s a cycle. You get something and hopefully you can give something, and to be able to do it in the exact same spot of course gives one a real feeling of completeness.”

Largely due to the small amount of dialogue, students have faced a significant challenge relating to their characters in the musical, Brown said. The cast has had to rely on a combination of Brown’s guidance and a poetic analysis of the Green Day lyrics.

“This is a show that asks a lot of you, and Lili-Anne is a really great guide through that,” Oh said. “Her sensibility and temperament as a leader and an artist really help us push ourselves.”

Oh said his character transitions from a suburban resident to drug addict to recovering addict in the musical — a difficult journey in the span of 90 minutes. Brown focuses on storytelling in the piece by taking a particular interest in the emotional journeys of the characters, Oh said.

Brown’s view of the production as an educational experience allows the actors to take risks and grow from their mistakes, said Communication junior Dan Leahy, who plays the role of Tunny.

As an alumna, Brown understands how busy the students are and is able to relate to the actors intellectually, Leahy said.

Brown would like to believe her status as an alumna allows her to understand the situation of the students more effectively, although the University experience has changed since she was a student, she said.

“It’s true, the Northwestern experience was quite different,” Brown said. “I think at its heart it’s the same though. You know, Northwestern sort of has a spirit and a heart that is Northwestern.”

Brown said the songs of the musical were written about the experiences of young people but still apply to multiple generations.

“The questions that are being asked in the show are questions that us, as college students, are asking all the time,” Oh said. “How do we figure out what’s really real and what matters, you know? I think that’s inherently part of our lives as Northwestern students right now.”

“American Idiot” will run from Oct. 16 to Oct. 25 in the Ethel M. Barber Theater.

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