Illini Student Musicals’ ‘American Idiot’ encourages individuality

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Photo Courtesy of Emma Ash

“American Idiot” cast members rehearse choreography for the song “Favorite Son” in the Krannert Center’s Orchestra room on Feb. 16.

By Emma Palatnik, Assistant features editor

In the spirit of Green Day’s Champaign concert on Tuesday, Illini Student Musicals is paying tribute to the rock group with a performance of “American Idiot,” a musical based on the band’s music.

Tori Leppert, junior in FAA, was put in a situation and had to drop her sorority earlier this year. Without the sorority, Leppert had new free time, but didn’t know what to do with it. Leppert’s mom suggested that she audition for Illini Student Musicals’ production of “American Idiot.”

Leppert, who is trained as a classical singer, was nervous to audition for the rock-style show. To her surprise, she received a callback. Leppert said that during the callback the student staff was very encouraging and pushed her to succeed.

Leppert was lucky enough to be cast as a main role in her first musical and Illini Student Musicals production. Leppert received the role of Heather, one of the few female leads in the show.

“American Idiot” is not like the majority of musicals.

All of the music was already written and came from Green Day’s “American Idiot” album. There are a few songs from the band’s album “21st Century Breakdown.”

The “American Idiot” album was written a few years after 9/11, and Leppert said it is almost a response to the tragedy and how America handled it.

Leppert said the lyrics, ‘Maybe I’m a f—– America, I’m not a part of the red neck agenda,’ in the song “American Idiot” has a message that promotes diversity and individuality.

“Maybe I’m very different. Maybe I’m gay. Maybe I’m this way,” Leppert said. “I’m not going to be part of that judgmental agenda just because I’m different.”

The musical is very male heavy, but the artistic staff tried to be more inclusive. They have a female playing the role of Saint Jimmy and they reassigned some solos to female ensemble members.

What is unique about Illini Student Musicals is that the group’s entire production — costumes, design, casting, directing, conducting and performing — is done by students.

“This is totally done by students. There’s no faculty really involved whatsoever,” said Aleeza Leder Macek, ensemble member and Illini Student Musicals board member. “We have some grad students involved in our organization, but most of us are undergrads and we’re doing this all by ourselves.”

The rehearsal process for the musical started at the beginning of the semester. A typical rehearsal began at 7 p.m. and lasted anywhere from one to three hours. Depending on the schedule, the rehearsal was either focused on vocals, choreography or blocking.

Keaton Hellman, sophomore in FAA and LAS, is the director of the show.

Hellman said during the first rehearsal the artistic staff sat down with the cast and decided what they wanted the message of their show to be.

He said that through physicalizing and vocalizing, the company can drive their chosen message and explore the show in an artistic way.

“That all will lead up to our tech week where we put all of the technical aspects of the show together,” Hellman said. “The lights, the sound, the music, the dancing, the set and that culminates into the powerful message that we chose all those weeks ago.”

Julia Roskopf, sophomore in FAA and vocal director, had a goal to get the cast to sing in a healthy way.

“It’s really easy with this show (to sing unhealthy). Everything is in kind of super high ranges, especially for the guys. So (we had) to get them to not belt too much or shout,” Roskopf said.

There is not much dialogue and the show is mostly based on music. There are 22 songs in the entire musical which means there is a lot of dancing and singing involved.

“Our vision for the show is to make it more like a rock concert than a musical. That will really come together with the lights that (the lighting designer) is doing,” Roskopf said.

Up until the first run through, the parts of the show are broken up and focused on separately.

“My favorite part of the whole thing is probably the first rehearsal where we run the entire show, because that’s really the click in everyone’s mind. Because up until that point it’s all puzzle pieces,” Hellman said.

“American Idiot” runs from March 31 to April 1 at 7 p.m. in Lincoln Hall. Tickets are available on the Illini Student Musicals’ website.

Leppert said she believes it’s very easy to feel outcasted in today’s society. She said politics plays a huge role in what is expected of people. Leppert hopes the audience understands that individuality is important to exemplify.

“This is that musical where you should come together and realize that you might be alone (in) thinking somehow, but you’re not alone in emotions and feelings,” Leppert said.

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