AMERICAN IDIOT

 

American Idiot

By Gary Murray

Starring Scott Campbell, Jake Epstein, Gabrielle McClinton, Nicci Claspell and Leslie McConel

Music by Green Day

Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong

Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

 

The jukebox musical has a varied history.  While some (like Mama Mia) seem to blend songs meant for a different media into a strong narrative structure, most just become a showcase for showing off the talents of the musical act that spawned them.

Some (like Million Dollar Quartet) are not much more than homage to a time or an event.  Some (like The Who’s Tommy) are a complete work, with fully thought out characters and situations. The latest of these to grace the stage of the Opera House as a part of the ATT&T Performing Arts Center is the rock musical based on the music of those Post-punk outfitters Green Day.  The play is entitled American Idiot and is based on their rock opera.

The stage is reminiscent of Rent or Stomp, meaning a stage full of different junk, suggesting a unkempt world.  The entire rock band (half a dozen musicians) is on stage toward the back.  There are scaffolds that grace the area, moveable platforms for the performers to climb and sing from.  The stage designers use strobes and harsh lights toward the audience for an offsetting effect.

The play opens with the company singing “American Idiot”.  On the walls are TV screens that serve almost as a commentary of the last administration.  We get visions of Bush and Cheney, with images of the war as if it were just another television show.  Eventually the cast is focused on three individuals, Johnny (Van Hughes) Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell).  They are best buddies who dream of breaking out of their ‘Jingletown USA’ existence of suburbia, wanting to be a part of the big city. 

As they are planning to leave, Will finds out that his girl is pregnant and decides to stay.  He sings about this lament in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. Johnny and Tunny go on their own with a group of wayward youths.  In the city, Johnny falls for a woman he sees in the window and Tunny is seduced into joining the Army.

Johnny goes off the deep end, falling into hard drugs and Tunny gets hurt.  In a dream sequence, Tunny and his nurse fly around the stage suggesting the medically induced euphoria of hospital drugs while Johnny finds a more street version of the same feeling.   

Eventually the three realize that the path toward becoming whole lies in coming together.  The work tries to tie itself up into a pretty bow of a mostly happy ending.  Then, in the best moment of the entire play, the cast takes a reprise bow of a good 20 acoustic guitars and the entire cast strumming “Time of your Life” easily the strongest song of the work.

 While the young cast is ecstatic about being on stage and giving it their all, the play is such a depressing experience.  While the music of Green Day is wonderful, it is best taken so in short bursts.  Three minutes of depressing music on the radio is much easier to swallow than wallowing in 90 minutes of nihilism.  This is a work with no hope, a death nail for long term success.    

The play felt as dated as Hair but without any of the joy. I cannot see how this work will ever become a part of the Great White Way traditions. It feels much more like a stunt than a classic Broadway work. 

The songs are all from the American Idiot LP with “Favorite Son”, “Last of the American Girls”, “Last Night on Earth”, “Too Much Too Soon” and “Before the Lobotomy” added to the story.  The biggest hit of the work was probably “21 Guns” an anthem for a new generation if there ever was one.

One of the problems with the musical is the lack of female breakout moments.  Both Gabrielle McClinton and Nicci Claspell have extraordinary voices but are given little chance to show off their pipes. Every little moment the two are given a line, the audience lights up and craves for more.  This play is a man’s world and the women are given the smallest bits to shine.   

Of the three male leads, Van Hughes shines above the fray.  He commands the stage every moment he is on stage.  His voice is full and strong, taking the words of Billie Joe Armstrong and turning them into his own.  This is an amazingly talented young man who should break out is a strong way very soon. 

American Idiot is just the kind of work that should bring a different audience into the world of musical theater.  This is a work for the Green Day fan base and those who enjoy three chord hard rock songs.  For those of the old guard, this will not be your cup of tea.  It is definitely a musical of a certain time and for a different audience.    

 

 

 

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