Melissa Etheridge made her Broadway debut last night as St. Jimmy in Green Day’s American Idiot, performing the role while Billie Joe Armstrong (reprising his fall stint as St. Jimmy in a 50-show limited engagement) is on break. As the first female to perform the role, Etheridge’s vocals were in top form, bringing a gospel-tinged soul to the punk-rock musical.
In talkbacks last fall, Armstrong and director Michael Mayer said they were open to a woman taking on the role of the show’s darkest character – the drug dealer and source of temptation for Idiot‘s main character, Johnny, who leaves his home of Jingletown in search of meaning in the big city. Etheridge’s entrance came about a third of the way into Idiot, and she quickly overcame a missed cue at the start of “St. Jimmy,” performing the song with gusto. Throughout her other solos in “Know Your Enemy,” “Last Night on Earth” and “Death of St. Jimmy,” Etheridge was measured, taking her time to reach the full power of each note, proving herself vocally fit for the rigors of a Broadway show.
In contrast to Armstrong — who performs the role as a punky demon, playfully egging Johnny to explore a party lifestyle and abandon his burgeoning love with Whatsername — and Tony Vincent — who originated the role as an alternately scary and sexy androgynous creature — Etheridge’s St. Jimmy came across as a kind of temptress, trying to seduce Johnny into a life of drugs. There were no changes to the song’s lyrics or production to accomodate a female St. Jimmy, save for a moment at the end when St. Jimmy takes off its shirt and draws on its chest; Etheridge unbuttoned a jacket to reveal a shirt with the illustration. Etheridge’s age and lack of acting experience proved negligible concerns, as well. Though some moments could have benefited from a more fleshed out interpretation, Etheridge’s voice more than made up for any theatrical shortcomings.
While the frenzy did not reach the same heights as it does when Armstrong performs, Etheridge’s fans made themselves known with shouts of “I love you!” during the show’s quieter moments. Idiot cast members also showed their awe during as Etheridge kick-started the show’s encore performance of “Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)” (watch it below). Etheridge’s bio states she’s embarking on a Canadian tour after her stint in February, and Armstrong is done at the end of February, leaving open the question of which rock star (or not) will take over the role in March.