For former Goth kid Kelvin Moon Loh, being gay and a punk junkie is the perfect marriage of art and rage
Kelvin Moon Loh knows what it’s like to be an outsider. In high school, he was the gay kid who hung out with the theater crowd, but also the Goths.
“I was one of those punk kids, wearing guyliner from age 12 to 18,” he admits. For Loh, those threads — gay and punk — felt seamless and natural. What was odd about being on the distaff side of society, both musically and sexually?
Which is why it has always struck him as odd that punk music too often has an undeserved reputation as homophobic. Nothing could be further from the truth, Loh thinks.
So when he heard about the casting call for the national tour of American Idiot, Loh made it his mission to get on board. But why?
“I get asked that question a lot,” he says. “I’m the only out gay man in the entire cast, and in the history of the show, there have only been three. It hasn’t attracted a gay talent base, and I wonder what it is about this piece that spoke to me so loudly? It basically is the rage.”
The punk rock opera, based on the concept album by the iconic band Green Day, spoke to Loh as a musical theater queen, a rock aficionado and as a gay man.
“[Queercore punk band] Pansy Division was one of those groups that, growing up as a gay man, I was impressed by. They know who they are. Even in high school and watching the punk scene, they were the misfits and the outcasts. They were the alternative kids and I felt right at home there,” Loh says. “Green Day was a big champion of Pansy Division.
That’s what I was attracted to.”
Punk rock, he says, fits hand in glove with the gay rights movement.
“The music is about standing up not just loud and angry, but proud. The only way for you to hear us is to stand with rage and a little bit of violence. There are just as many gay anthems in the punk movement as in disco and from Lady Gaga, just nobody realizes that,” he says.
The chance to bring that energy to the stage was one of the things that attracted Loh to American Idiot.
“It’s cutting edge — a new form of musical theater,” he says. “There are a lot of jukebox musicals out there where they take a catalogue of songs and slap them together. But when Green Day wrote it, they wrote it as a rock opera. Just to see the popular music put onstage and reimagined in a non-stop, in-your-face, punk music way with lots of heart to it is remarkable.”
Even though the plot lacks any gay characters per se, there’s much that he reads into it.
“What resonates to me is this is the idea that making the most of the circumstances you are given in life. Nothing is right or wrong, but it’s what is true for me. We are in control of our own fates. There is no black or white, it’s completely gray. It really is the story of an anti-hero.”
One thing that has impressed Loh from the start is how the behind-the-scenes folks on Idiot are masters of the musical theater form, while savvy about the subject matter.
“The team that assembled American Idiot are no Broadway newbies,” he says. “The only people who were new to it were Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day. All these people understand all the rules of what a Broadway musical should be, and then they transform it and push it to the edge.”
When I mention to Loh that old-school Broadway star Tommy Tune called American Idiot his favorite recent musical, he was gobsmacked … until he realizes the interplay between the classic and the new.
“Really?! Well, to be honest, there’s a sincerity to Tommy Tune’s work and we try to do that. It’s not about being angry or yelling onstage, but about being as honest as possible. Punk is about presenting music in the simplest, most raw manner,” Loh says.
Still, he admits American Idiot is something of a hard sell to traditional B’way audiences.
“The farthest south we’ve gone is Raleigh,” he says. “There are some moments that are the walk-out moments: There is simulated sex and simulated heroin use onstage. That can be too much for some people.”
But, he says, what makes American Idiot unique is that it reaches a whole new demographic not usually drawn to musical theater.
“You have your old-time subscribers who have bought tickets, plus this Internet fanbase of musical theater fans who want to see the piece. But then you have another part, who are just pure, hardcore Green Day fans. You have all those three groups of theatergoers stuck in one place and every night and together, they come rising to their feet. I’ve never seen anything like it. You’ll leave remembering every part of it.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2012.