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Sunday, 25 April 2010 19:16

Broadway Review: AMERICAN IDIOT

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Stark Sands, John Gallagher, Jr., and Michael Esper in AMERICAN IDIOT
Stark Sands, John Gallagher, Jr., and Michael Esper in American Idiot
Photo: Paul Kolnik
I have never been a punk-rock fan, let alone a fan of Green Day. I don't get the rage, or perhaps I should say I don't get the benefit of the rage. It seems a waste of an awful lot of energy. Perhaps that has just come with the benefit of time but frankly, I never understood the animus to the point of near self-destruction that our leading male character portrays. American Idiot is based on Green Day's Grammy winning album of the same title. It stars the astonishingly talented John Gallagher, Jr., who starred in and won a 2007 Tony Award for Spring Awakening.

In the musical we follow three youths who set out to get out of small-town life. Johnny (Gallagher), Will (Michael Esper) and Tunny (Stark Sands) head in different directions with Will getting stuck at home with a pregnant girlfriend, Tunny going to Iraq and ending up horrifically maimed and Johnny getting sucked into a downward spiral of sex and drugs. Each has a female counterpart with Mary Faber as the pregnant girlfriend of Will, Christina Sajous as a hospital nurse who cares for Tunny and Rebecca Naomi Jones as Johnny's girlfriend, until heroin takes control of his life. Johnny is dragged down by an evil drug dealer named St. Jimmy played with frightening intensity by Tony Vincent.

The music of the original album is pulsating, frenetic and pissed off and was a response to the Iraq war, the policies of the Bush administration and the sorry state of the media. It is also amazingly melodic and hauntingly beautiful at times. The cast and band handle the music adroitly. Augmenting the music from the original "American Idiot" album are songs from the band's latest album, "21st Century Breakdown." While it was created as a concept album, the wisp of a story line that has been added by director and co-libretists Michael Mayer and Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong leaves the show feeling more like a live music video than a piece of musical theatre.

Rebecca Naomi James and the Cast of AMERICAN IDIOT
Rebecca Naomi James and the Cast of American Idiot
Photo: Paul Kolnik
The musical plays out on a stark and grimy set by Christine Jones made up of a decoupage of media that includes projections of news footage and pop culture way-points projected on a huge wall that runs the width of the stage with multiple implanted television sets. Kudos to video and projection designer Darrel Maloney for his seizure-inducing panoply of historical and pop culture references which are projected on these television screens.

Despite the lack of a coherent or convincing story line, Michael Mayer has thrown enough other outstanding elements into the mix that this really is an eye-popping (and eardrum popping, I'm getting old) production. It has an exceptionally talented band that helps drive the show and an exceptional cast with outstanding voices well suited for the material.

The evening I saw the show, the band members of Green Day were actually seated in the theatre watching the show. At the end of the show they were immediately ushered out of the theatre, backstage and onto the stage where they played "American Idiot and "Basket Case" for the already pumped up crowd.

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View full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.
Last modified on Saturday, 26 March 2011 18:55