On several recent weekends, there’s been a lot of teenage energy just barely contained in a small rehearsal space in a building off Oregon Pike in Lancaster.
Limbs fly out in a release of emotion. Hair falls onto sweaty faces as heads nod repeatedly, almost violently, to a punk rock music track.
In unison, members of the all-teen cast of Bartos Theatrical Group’s upcoming production of the rock musical “Green Day’s American Idiot,” call it “justified headbanging.”
This simmering energy in Creative Pursuits Studio’s rehearsal space is, in part, an expression of the anxiety and frustration this cast of older teens — many newly minted high school graduates or rising seniors — have been through this past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wanted to do ‘American Idiot,’ because we’ve all been through so much this last year, and this musical of youthful disillusion” fits the moment, says Max Bartos, 18, who directs the show and plays Johnny, one of the three lead characters.
“I feel everybody can relate to its messaging, and just its general ‘angsty-ness’ right now. I certainly know I can,” Bartos says.
Bartos Theatrical Group is Bartos’ brainchild, with the support of his parents, Todd and Becky Bartos, of East Lampeter Township.
The show, which contains adult language and themes, is often performed by older adults — though the characters in the show are supposed to be the around the age of members of this cast.
The mostly-sung-through show, which ran on Broadway from 2010-11, is built around the songs on the 2004 “punk rock opera” concept album “American Idiot” by the band Green Day.
It features such familiar Green Day songs as “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
It will be performed with a live rock band Friday and Saturday at Prima Theatre in Lancaster.
The musical tells the story of three friends, Johnny, Will and Tunny — they’re usually cast as three men, but Tunny is a woman in this production — who seek to escape a stifling suburbia and head for the city to find meaning and purpose in their lives.
“My character, Johnny … wants to take a stand for something, which I can relate to a lot — wanting to have a voice and be able to share that voice,” Bartos says.
Along the way, he says, his character becomes a heroin addict — manifested in an alter-ego character named St. Jimmy — and falls in love with Whatshername, a girl he sees through a city window.
“He’s going through all the struggles,” Bartos says. The three friends “splinter off into our own factions in the world” throughout the course of the show.
They must find their way from these divergent paths to reunion, healing and forgiveness as the show progresses.
Reagan Starrett, 18, of Etters, a recent Red Land High School graduate, says she loves “absolutely everything about the show. The music is incredible.”
“Angsty teenagers, that’s what we’re known as,” Starrett says. “The show kind of shows everyone exactly what that means. It’s not just angsty teens headbanging … it’s for a purpose.”
Hunter Smith, 17, a rising senior at Hempfield High School, plays Will.
“He’s getting ready to go into the city with his best friends … but then he finds out he got his girlfriend, Heather, pregnant, so he stays back,” Smith says. “I think he’s not ready to be a father.” He turns to substance abuse, which alienates Heather, and “he falls into this kind of depression because everyone is leaving him and he doesn’t have anything left.”
Will “is just kind of staying there unwillingly,” says Anya Ditzler, 17, a recent Conestoga Valley High graduate, who plays Heather. His substance abuse “kind of changes his personality, and it’s not (a relationship) Heather wants to be in.
“A lot has happened in America, and in the world, in general,” Ditzler says, “This show kind of shines a light on the anger that comes with it” and “on things that aren’t really normal topics to talk about.”
“The subject matter is a really important part for me, because, as teenagers, we’re told that topics like drugs and pregnancy are things we should not be thinking about,” Smith says. “But being in an all-teen cast of this show … it gives us an opportunity to express how we’re feeling inside — to express an anger over the past year and a half.”
Alexa Niles, 17, a recent Harrisburg Academy graduate, says her character of Tunny is “a little lost … and her answer is joining the military and going off to war.” Tunny is seriously wounded, and falls in love with The Extraordinary Girl, a nurse in the military hospital — first as part of a morphine-induced hallucination, and then in reality.
The show speaks to Niles in that members of the teenage cast “are at a time in our life where we’re making some really big changes, and a lot of us are going off to college, and everyone is just about to be starting that journey of finding out who they are and what they want to do with their lives,” she says.
“I think this show expresses a lot of what those feelings are like,” Niles says, “and it’s OK to struggle and not know who you are and figuring it out as you go — and sometimes starting over.”
“Anger is not necessarily a socially acceptable emotion to express all the time, especially for young girls,” says Laura Claire Walker, 18, a recent Hempfield grad who plays Extraordinary Girl. “It’s cool to be able to express anger, and see how everyone does it differently.”
Among all the losses dished out by the pandemic, Bartos missed making his Broadway debut as 1980s Irish teen Darren in another musical about disillusioned youth, “Sing Street.”
The show, in which Bartos performed off Broadway, was moving into Broadway rehearsals when New York theaters abruptly shut down in March 2020.
He sings on the show’s cast album.
In the fall, just after one more musical he’s planning to direct for Bartos Theatrical Group, Bartos will be moving back to New York, to prepare for rehearsals for “Sing Street” — now slated to open at an indeterminate date and Broadway theater in late 2021 or early 2022.
In the ’80s-flavored musical, set in the bleak financial times of 1982 Dublin, a group of high school kids form a band to escape their troubles.
Bartos recently graduated from Stone Independent School, and — in anticipation of “Sing Street” rehearsals — has deferred his freshman year at New York University for a year.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Green Day,” Bartos says. “It was actually the first concert I saw … with my dad, and it was incredible.”
“American Idiot” is, he says, “just the perfect show for right now. And all the anger in the show, I feel, is justified.”
• What: “Green Day’s American Idiot,” a rock musical presented by Bartos Theatrical Group.
• When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 25, and 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 26.
• Where: Prima Theatre, 941 Wheatland Ave., Lancaster.
• Tickets: $25 for general admission. Order online at lanc.news/BTGAmericanIdiotTix.
• Note: The show, performed by an all-teen cast, contains adult language and themes.
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