I am proud to say that I have a very interesting and successful circle of friends. Some of them I tend to brag about more than others. Brian Johnson is one of those friends. He was the one brave person I knew who had the chops to pick up everything after graduating from Kenmore East Senior High School and move to New York City.
Between graduation in 2003 and today he has managed to land significant roles in two of the freshest rock operas Broadway has seen in years, Spring Awakening and Green Day’s American Idiot. Both shows have been nominated for several Tony Awards including Best Musical, which Spring Awakening took home in 2007.
Through the success of each of his shows Johnson has performed on “David Letterman” (see below), “The Early Show“, “Good Morning America”, “The View”, “The Tony Awards”, “The Grammy Awards” and featured in two MTV specials.
Since his days of getting detention for slipping profanity into the dialogue of school plays or releasing mix-tapes of his mad rap skills, I wanted to catch up with the Broadway wonder and see if he was still the same kick-ass friend from high school.
Buffalo Rising (BR): It had to be a pretty big decision for you to move on from Spring Awakening to Green Day’s American Idiot Tour. How did the transition transpire and what ultimately lead you to join the cast?
Brian Johnson (BJ): While I was doing Spring Awakening, I was asked to be a part of the 1st workshop of the American Idiot project by Michael Mayer (who directed both Spring Awakening and American Idiot). This was basically a chance for us to perform the music for Green Day with 15 or so different voices singing their music. They were blown away by it, and gave Michael the go-ahead to keep developing the show. After leaving Spring Awakening in July of 2008, I took some time off for a little bit, and also did the 2nd workshop of American Idiot, where we started to put the project on its feet and add choreography and staging. A few months after this, we found out that we would be going out to Berkeley, CA to do a first run of the show at the Berkeley Rep Theater, with the idea in mind that if we were to do well out there that we would eventually bring it back to Broadway. Since my first day of rehearsal, I’ve felt that this was something special, and I’m just so happy that we’ve been able to bring it back to New York City.
BR: American Idiot makes huge political statements about American Youth and the Bush administration, to be a part of a movement like that has to be intense and perhaps revealed sentiments you might not have otherwise considered. Did you have ulterior reasons for being a part of American Idiot?
BJ: I don’t think I had any ulterior reasons for being a part of American Idiot, other than just having a steady job with another amazing show (he laughs). What I do love about this show is that it isn’t pretty, and it doesn’t try to be. It has an amazingly beautiful unpolished grit to it. It’s not trying to dazzle the audience with pretty pictures; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a story about suburban kids in their twenties who are trying to find themselves in a society that isn’t really paying attention. The thing I love the most about this piece is that it’s honest and heart wrenching, and the cast is made up of some of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my life.
BR: Green Day is a timeless punk rock band that our generation grew up listening to. Were you a Green Day fan before doing the show and has your opinion or concept of their music changed since singing it on stage?
BJ: Yes, first and foremost, I am a hip-hop fan, but I love all kinds of music. I have a vivid memory of when I was a kid and I was in our friend Mark’s room listening to (Green Day’s) Dookie for and it was the first time I had ever really heard punk. The genre may not necessarily be my cup of tea, but that album is undeniable.
BR: How does it feel to think about the last couple years of your life and the success that you’ve had including having both shows for nominated for Best Musical, and to have actually taken that award home?
BJ: These past few years have been like living in a dream. I always knew that I was going to do this for a living, but I had absolutely no idea when or how that was going to happen. The fact that I’ve been able to be a part of two Broadway shows, let alone two that were nominated for Best Musical, winning one with Spring Awakening, is something that I cherish every day. I know that there are so many people in this world that have to give up on their “dreams” or what they really want do, so I know how lucky I am to get to do this on a daily basis. I never take it for granted, and am extremely grateful to my parents for allowing me to come to NYU (New York University) and major in theater, because that was a risky and expensive move. But luckily, I worked hard, and was in the right place at the right time, and I’ve never looked back.
BR: Performing at the Grammy’s?!?! MTV Specials?!?! Daytime TV?!?! Performing at the Tonys?!?! Explain what this is like for us folks watching at home…
BJ: The Grammy’s was a once in a lifetime type of experience. We were all flown out to Los Angeles to rehearse with Green Day for a couple of days. We didn’t really get to meet a lot of celebrities or anything, because they run a real tight ship with security for the event, but Green Day through a private party for just us and them afterwards. That was a perfect end to that surreal weekend. Performing at the Tony’s twice, on Letterman twice, “The View”, “Good Morning America”, and having MTV specials are all things that I can now cross off my list of things I never thought I’d do ever, let alone by the time I’m 25. All of that aside, I just want to thank all my friends back in the “B-Lo” (Buffalo) for watching these events, it means a lot to me.
BR: How many pending friend requests do you have?