Melissa Etheridge on Her 'American Idiot' Role: 'It's Not a Male or Female Thing'

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge
 Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Melissa Etheridge will make her Broadway debut in American Idiot on February 1 through 6, stepping into the role of St. Jimmy, currently played by Billie Joe Armstrong, the show’s musical visionary and Green Day frontman, but her ambitions on the Great White Way go far beyond a one week stint on the stage. Etheridge is also working on a musical with girlfriend and Nurse Jackie creator Linda Wallem

"It's something I've wanted to do for a long, long time," Etheridge tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's been on the back burner, but it's moved to the front burner this year." The Oscar-winning singer didn't want to reveal too much about the concept ("I get nervous," she says), but would divulge that, "It's sort of [about] my love of Broadway. I wanted to write a musical about the heart of musicals." Helping her pen the story is Wallem. Etheridge will write the music.

But first, American Idiot -- a challenging undertaking for the 49-year-old singer, who, despite having toured steadily this summer, will have to adjust to the Broadway schedule of eight shows a week. "I definitely have to be in shape because it's a lot of young folks running around on that stage," she says with a laugh. "Young, pretty and skinny, so I'm going to be a bit more voluptuous than the previous Jimmys ... But yoga always gets me through everything."

 

St. Jimmy is also among the darker characters in an already bleak story of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Described as "seductive, thrilling and dangerous" by director Michael Mayer, he's portrayed as a drug dealer, predator and the devil himself. Can Etheridge relate? "Being a rock star, I never lived that rock star life," she says. "I never got in trouble with drugs, I was smart enough to know that was a dead end. So anytime someone like that would come around, I would be, like, 'Yeah, not interested.' "

And while she has yet to talk to Armstrong or Mayer about the nuances of playing what was until now a male character, Etheridge says she sees him as more "androgynous." "The role is representative of the dark side of the city and of drug abuse, and I don't think that's a male or female thing," she posits. "It can be both. Other than the name, it's not like it's identified as either."The experience so far as made Etheridge appreciate the blood, sweat and tears  that go into a top-of-the-line Broadway production, and for that reason, she’s sympathetic to the trials of a show like Spider-Man, which she has not seen. But in the end, Etheridge adds, “It's about the songs and the story. You can make the biggest set in the world with the biggest effects, but if you don't have the songs or the story, anything else you put on it is a house of cards.”

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