Just back from seeing the Broadway musical production of Green Day’s American Idiot for the third time in three weeks, this time with Melissa Etheridge in the role of the drug dealer and possible figment of the main character’s imagination, St. Jimmy.

To revive flagging ticket sales, the producers had asked Green Day front man and composer Billie Joe Armstrong to play the role of St. Jimmy for 50 performances during January and February. I was lucky enough to catch one of those last week, and Armstrong’s performance was marvelous: his antic disposition on stage captured the seductive nature of drugs, simultaneously irresistible and repellent. Armstrong’s St. Jimmy was a seemingly asexual party animal, at odds with the idea of love. The tension between St. Jimmy and the protagonist’s girlfriend (“Whatsername”) is palpable but not sexual.

Armstrong was unavailable this week, so the producers enticed Etheridge to take over the role. (When my January Term students met director Michael Mayer two weeks ago, he revealed that a woman would be playing the role, but was coy about who it would be.) With Etheridge as St. Jimmy, the dynamics change — and not just because some of the character’s songs seem to have been lowered a key or two in order to fit Etheridge’s vocal range more comfortably. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Etheridge said, “I definitely have to be in shape because it’s a lot of young folks running around on that stage. … Young, pretty and skinny, so I’m going to be a bit more voluptuous than the previous Jimmys.” Her St. Jimmy seems less like a Fight Club-esque alter-ego than a perverse manifestation of the protagonist’s mother, the one who “lent me the money” for the bus ticket to get away — “the bitch.” The tension between Etheridge’s St. Jimmy and the girlfriend has definite sexual overtones — and probably some Oedipal ones too — particular during her death scene, when Etheridge strips off her leather jacket to reveal a T-shirt with a heart split in two — echoing the T-shirt that the the protagonist wears in an earlier scene as well as the pattern that now appears on his naked chest.

Watching Etheridge in the role was a little bit like watching a woman play Hamlet — definitely interesting but definitely not definitive. Etheridge’s fans — who seemed to be in the audience in force — would no doubt disagree, and once she got over some jitters in the opening lines of her first song, Etheridge started to really tear into the role vocally. She’ll probably be terrific over the weekend. If the producers are smart, they’ll find a way to put out an EP with her songs. Sadly, there was no insert in the Playbill tonight inviting the audience to send a text and receive a link to download tonight’s version of the show’s encore, “Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life).” I hope that’ll change.

[Photo credit: OntheRedCarpet.com]