Degrassi grad stars in Green Day rock opera

Kathryn Kates, Special to The CJN, Thursday, December 15, 2011

TORONTO The first rock concert Jake Epstein saw was one by the American punk band Green Day in Mississauga, Ont. He was 12.

Now, the 24-year-old Toronto actor is starring in American Idiot, a rock opera based on Green Days Grammy Award-winning 2004 multi-platinum album of the same name.

Epstein says it means a lot to him to be in a show written by this band, and he feels that he has come full circle. Hes looking forward to meeting Green Day when they come to see the show in Toronto.

The show is the closest thing to a rock concert thats still theatre that I have ever seen in my life, says Epstein from New York, where he is rehearsing the role of Will for the shows inaugural American tour.

I think audiences will be thoroughly entertained. It is quite a moving piece especially with the Occupy Movement and with the thinking about it being unfair that the one per cent takes everyones money. And I think that this real piece of news really resonates with American Idiot.

The tour opens at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Dec. 28, part of the Dancap 2012 Broadway Series, before hitting 14 cities in the United States.

Epstein said he finds the idea of performing for friends and family on opening night equally exciting and nerve-racking.

Epstein is known to television audiences for his role as Craig in Degrassi: The Next Generation and to theatre-goers for a number of productions, most recently the musical Billy Elliot. However, it was his role as Melchior in the North American tour of Spring Awakening, which had the same production team as American Idiot, that got him his current role.

American Idiot tells the story of three friends, Will, Johnny [Van Hughes] and Tunny [Scott J. Campbell], who want to get out of suburbia and make something of their lives. So, they all make plans to move to the city, says Epstein. My character, Will, is a slacker, who is into hard-core punk music.

Will finds out that his girlfriend, Heather [Leslie McDonel], is pregnant, so he is left behind. He is stuck in suburbia, and spends most of the play on a couch. I dont leave the stage for the whole show. It is probably the strangest part Ive ever played in my life.

The musical includes the hit Boulevard of Broken Dreams and the title track American Idiot. In 2010, the show garnered a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.

Ironically, even though Epstein spends a lot of his performance on the couch, he says he finds it to be a demanding show. It is a really physical show. Its really in your body. We have to do a ton of core and body conditioning before every rehearsal. I am really excited. Its like nothing I have ever done before.

Epstein saw the original production of American Idiot in Berkeley, Calif., in 2009 during a workshop. He caught the multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway production during its March 2010 to April 2011 run at the St. James Theatre in New York.

In addition to touring with American Idiot for nine months, Epstein will be seen next season in an episode of the Murdoch Mysteries on CBC-TV and in an indie film called Blood Pressure.

For tickets to American Idiot, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts Dec. 28 to Jan. 15, visit http://www.DancapTickets.com or call 416-644-3665 or toll free at 1-866-950-7469.

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