Dana Oland: Dressing up an ‘American Idiot’

Touring production brings a Boise connection with it.

November 29, 2013 

From the first performances of “American Idiot” in its pre-Broadway run at California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009, it was clear this was something a little different on a musical stage.

With the pop-punk band Green Day’s album “American Idiot” as the basis for its score, it was the first punk opera — like a rock opera on Red Bull.

The show captured media attention, got great reviews and tapped into a new audience with its explosive energy and defiant attitude.

It will make a one-night stand at the Morrison Center on Dec. 2, bringing with it a connection to Boise through the work of costume designer Andrea Lauer, whose cheeky world of ripped, red-white-and-blue denim and flannel helps create the fresh visual world of the show.

Boise audiences are no strangers to Lauer’s work. She spent the past three years hanging out in the City of Trees for months at a time as an artist in residence with the Trey McIntyre Project.

“I love Boise,” she says from her office in Brooklyn. “I think it’s an artist retreat 24/7. It is super magical. I am forever grateful for TMP for this. It’s a real gift.”

Lauer collaborated with choreographer Trey McIntyre on several of his world-premiere ballets, including “Ten Pin Episodes,” a piece based on bowling pins, and “Ladies and Gentle Men,” an exploration of gender roles set to the 1970s album “Free to Be You and Me.”

Lauer and McIntyre met 20 years ago in Houston, where Lauer grew up and where McIntyre then worked with Houston Ballet. He gave her one of her first gigs. “I was fresh out of college,” Lauer remembered, “I was reading tarot as my job, and one of my clients told me about a dancer she knew who was making a film and needed some design help. So I called him and he said yes.”

Lauer went on to create dozens of shows at Houston’s Alley Theatre before going to graduate school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. That’s where she met Tony-winning set designer Christina Jones, who was her professor at the time. Jones and Lauer found they are good collaborators, and Jones brought Lauer onto the “American Idiot” team.

Lauer creates bold and imaginative designs for theater, film and dance. She also does photo styling for rock bands and set design. She is becoming a creative force in the theater world.

“I’m a storyteller first and I do it with action — for me that’s the fabric, how it moves, how it’s ripped and sewn back together and how the design is juxtaposed with environment,” she says.

Lauer often lands on the cutting edge, working with creative teams that are exploring new work. That was the case with “American Idiot.”

“I like to get involved in shaping the piece,” she says. “With ‘American Idiot’ they definitely wanted people to bring ideas to the table — though they ultimately make the decisions. They take what I do and meld it into their larger concept.”

Lauer used a similar process for this as she did with her work for TMP.

“I find out about the story, read something, talk to the director or choreographer or listen to the music. Then I create a ‘mood board,’ ” she says.

A mood board is essentially a storyboard collage where she combines the concepts about philosophy, culture, class and narrative that her exploration inspires.

“I basically cut and paste my feelings onto a board,” she says. “It allows me to distill my ideas to create a world that feels cohesive and that usually spurs a great creative conversation about dramaturgy (the work of theater).”

Lauer collaged each song on the “American Idiot” album, “So I could figure out what was happening when, and how I could give it movement and shape.”

From there, she let her ideas inspired by her art create the world of the show.

Director Michael Mayer’s concept for the show was a theatricalization of Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

When it opened on Broadway in 2010, it was the right show at the right time. Called “blunt, bold and aggressive” and “a pulsating portrait of wasted youth” by The New York Times, it changed expectations of what a musical could be.

Mayer collaborated with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong to lift its story of youthful malaise from the album to the stage. They used all the songs on “American Idiot,” including the hit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” (They threw in a few from 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown,” too.)

The storyline they created focuses on three disconnected and disillusioned young men in the Bush years of post-9/11 America.

They each rebel in different ways as they try to cope with how the world is changing — one goes to war, one stays in suburbia, one goes to the streets.

Although it’s hard to find redemption in the nihilist, angst-ridden struggle to find meaning that fuels the show, there are redeeming moments, Lauer says.

“I especially like ‘Homecoming,’ ” Lauer says. “It’s filled with memories and moments from the whole show. It brings it all together.”

Though there are no plans for her to return to Boise in the near future, Lauer is currently working on her third new musical: “What’s it All About?: Bacharach Reimagined,” a show featuring new arrangements of composer Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s pop classics, such as “Message to Michael,” “Look of Love” and “This Guy’s In Love With You.”

Directed by Steven Hoggett, who choreographed “American Idiot,” and also designed by Jones and Lauer, it’s in production at New York Theatre Workshop.

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