Theatre Mirror Reviews - "American Idiot"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth

Green Day’s
"American Idiot"

A Review by Sheila Barth

With the same blitzy bravado as the national touring company’s production of “Spring Awakening,” two-time Tony Award-winning, hit musical, Green Day’s “American Idiot” blew into Boston’s Opera House for five days and left audiences gasping in urban exultation.

For 90 non-stop minutes, this ingenious, zesty, youthful rock opera attacks and assails on stage with relentless energy.

Almost no words are spoken. The super-charged lyrics of Green Day’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, (who performed on Broadway and co-wrote the book with Director Michael Mayer) along with the frenetic choreography of Steven Hoggett say it all, energetically and eloquently.

Set designer Christine Jones’ movable metal structures and staircases wheel the cast of 25 around on several levels as they leap and move fluidly. The musicians are on stage with the performers, led by keyboardist-director Jared Stein, blending into the jagged environment of the recent past in post 9/11 Jingletown USA.

From opening to final curtain, designer Kevin Adams’ multi-colored lights blink, swirl and pulsate, accompanied by Brian Ronan’s bombastic sound effects and Darrel Maloney’s projection and video designs. Several mounted monitors and screens are emblazoned with Maloney’s images of the George W. Bush era, laden with battle scenes, hallucinated and real drug zones, and vestiges of capitalism. Also, similar to “Spring Awakening,” which Mayer and others in “American Idiot” helmed and appeared in, the stage is divided into a seamless triptych, focusing on three childhood friends, whose paths differ widely. Narrators announce dates to signify the passage of time during scenes.

The trio is reunited when they return home in the end, radically changed. “Is this the end or the beginning?” They sing. “I’m an idiot.....” After the curtain closes to a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation, it lifts again, as the cast sings, they hope we had the time of our lives.

Original Broadway cast member Van Hughes is phenomenal as Johnny, who leaves for the Big City, is tantalized and misguided by decadent drug dealer St. Jimmy (the uncanny Joshua Kobak), who strangely resembles Gene Simmons as KISS. Jake Epstein as Will is disgruntled and disappointed that he must stay behind with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Leslie McDonel); and Canadian export Scott J. Campbell is touching as muscular Tunny, who is lured into joining the military by a spit-and-polish handsome commander. Tunny is shipped overseas to fight in Iraq and returns home, wounded.

In Johnny’s hazy, drug-induced world, he falls in love but loses his rebellious girlfriend, Whatsername (sexy Gabrielle McClinton), as he spirals downward, consumed with self-pity.

As Tunny recuperates in a military field hospital and falls in love with his blonde military paramedic (pretty Nicci Claspell), he hallucinates about her, covered in a regimental blue burqua, with an exotic bright-colored costume underneath. He ascends from his gurney to fly and follow her mid-air, then returns to reality, in the makeshift hospital.

Every song, from the moving, opening theme, “American Idiot,” “Jesus of Suburbia,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “St. Jimmy,” to the evocatively painful “Give Me Novacaine,” and “Nobody Likes You,” to the plaintive, lovely “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” are anthemic, throbbing vividly with angst. They’re youthful cries against a suburban society they think has failed them.

Perhaps “American Idiot” isn’t saying anything profoundly new about youth’s disillusionment with our country, politics, and future, but its message is so compelling, its music so memorable, and the cast’s performance so vibrant, the play will echo long after these anti-heroes are rocking in chairs.

"American Idiot" (24 - 29 January)
@ The Opera House, 539 Washington Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide