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Q & A: American Idiot's Leslie McDonel on sharing the stage with Billie Joe Armstrong

Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day managed to knock the socks off more than a few listeners when they released the song cycle American Idiot on CD in 2004. But at the time, no one could have imagined the ruckus a stage version would eventually make on Broadway. A fabulous set of songs beefed up with a stronger plot, it's a rock musical that pushes the envelope of what that really means. And though Billie Joe himself starred in at least part of the run in New York, his absence should be overshadowed on tour by a strong cast led by a few of the show's Broadway veterans. American Idiot opens at 8 p.m. tonight at the Buell Theatre and continues through Sunday; for tickets, which start at $20, visit the Denver Center website or call 303-893-4100.

We caught up with cast member Leslie McDonel, who comes to the tour directly from the Broadway show, to find out what it's like to help bring Billie Joe Armstrong's musical vision to the stage.

Westword: How did you end up performing in American Idiot on Broadway?

Leslie McDonel: I auditioned in the winter of 2009 for the Broadway cast and ended up working in the ensemble for the entire run.

Now that you've stepped up to a bigger role on tour, what challenges have you had to face?

Actually, as Heather, I have the easiest role, physically. I'm holding a baby a lot of the time in what's really, physically, a highly demanding show. The cast members are like athletes -- they have to be punk-rock mosh-pitters, all while dancing and singing and acting. You really have to be on your game. It's kind of like being shot out of a cannon!

What was it like to work with Billy Joe Armstrong on Broadway?

It was beyond exciting to fall in love with the material, and I came to admire him so much for his lyrics and the heart he brings to the music. I felt very lucky -- I learned a lot about honesty and giving every ounce of yourself and not saving it for later. Billy Joe is great -- in some ways, he's still the same as when he was nineteen. He now has two teen sons, and he's forty years old and a smart businessman, but he still has that spirit of the young punk kid who wants to shake things up. And he's silly. He would dress up for us a lot, and come down in different costumes.

What attracted you to audition for American Idiot in the first place?

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Honestly, it's what I do: rock musicals. To me, it was just another audition, though I was already a fan of Green Day's music. When I got in, it was like, "Wow!" I had no idea that it was going to be this impactful. It's not just a staged concert, and I think it surprises people how moved they are by it. I wanted to be in a piece that challenges people. If you love good theater and punk rock music, this is it. It's modern and interesting, there's lots of dancing and beautiful orchestrations with string arrangements -- there's something for everyone.

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