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Article updated: 4/12/2013 1:00 PM

Northwestern student takes time off for 'American Idiot' role


Don't call actor Alex Nee a drop out, even though he may look like one in the national tour of "American Idiot."

The 2010 Broadway musical inspired by Green Day's best-selling 2004 rock album returns to Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre for an eight-performance run starting Tuesday.

"I took the year off to do this show," said Nee, a Northwestern University senior and native of Palo Alto, Calif. "But I just found out that I'll be able to graduate with my class this June, so I get to walk and then I'll finish up my requirements this upcoming summer."

Nee was torn over whether to stay in school or accept the starring role of the disillusioned drug addict Johnny in the nonunion tour of "American Idiot" last year. In talks with his professors, particularly David H. Bell (who is directing the Marriott Theatre's current revival of "South Pacific" in Lincolnshire), Nee was advised to take the plunge.

"(Bell) stressed the importance of eventually finishing my schooling and my degree," Nee said. "But he also said that this experience and this role specifically -- I won't be able to play this role in five years time and that show may not be around, so take advantage of this opportunity."

Nee counts himself lucky to have worked with the show's Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer and composer Tom Kitt (a Pulitzer Prize winner for "Next to Normal"), who did orchestrations and musical arrangements on "American Idiot." Since this was also Nee's first tour, he treated the rehearsal process like he was a student and tried to soak up as much experience and knowledge from the people around him.

"I really viewed it as furthering my education as well as my career," Nee said. "I had to jump on this opportunity because it sort of was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Nee considers himself to be very lucky to have toured with "American Idiot" during its stints in the United Kingdom and Ireland in October through December, particularly since he got to perform on the hallowed stage of the Hammersmith Apollo in London.

"So many bands that I've grown up listening to and looked up to were there," Nee said. "I had this moment onstage during (the song 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams') with just a spotlight on me and I realized like, wow, I'm standing where Paul McCartney and Buddy Holly and Led Zeppelin once stood -- all these greats and to have that energy surrounding me."

If there's one regret Nee has about leaving the tour this summer is that he will miss out on the upcoming engagements in Japan and Korea through 2013-14.

"They offered for me to continue on with the tour, and I would have loved to," Nee said. "But I decided it was important for me to finish up my schooling."

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