If you love the frenetic rhythms and jagged edges of punk rock, you'll enjoy American Idiot. Green Day fans in particular should connect with the national tour of the Broadway show inspired by Green Day's theme album of the same name and other songs that celebrate - or mourn - alienated youth in post-9/11 America.
If you love the frenetic rhythms and jagged edges of punk rock, you'll enjoy American Idiot.
Green Day fans in particular should connect with the national tour of the Broadway show inspired by Green Day's theme album of the same name and other songs that celebrate - or mourn - alienated youth in post-9/11 America.
American Idiot, which opened yesterday at the Palace Theatre, is a 21st-century rock musical with extraordinary energy that tends to dissipate amid all the noise, blinding lights, TV projections and young-adult cliches.
What it lacks in depth and coherence, though, the 90-minute one-act makes up for with a feisty attitude that reflects a new younger generation of rebels without a cause.
With more than 30 TV screens flashing montages of news, celebrities and easy symbolism on the back wall and the performers often writhing, crouching and beating their heads down as if striking some invisible wall of angst, American Idiot often feels less like a Broadway musical than a multimedia happening.
Although director Michael Mayer's staging is electric, the loosely interwoven stories of three suburban guys struggling with an uncertain future don't build up to much.
Alex Nee is convincing as Johnny, who after moving to the big city falls in love with drugs and gets addicted to lost-soul Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) - or is it the other way around?
Saddled with the most static role, Casey O'Farrell lives down to low expectations as underachiever Will, stuck at home on the couch watching TV with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Kennedy Caughell). O'Farrell does sing and play a guitar well.
Tunny (Thomas Hettrick), meanwhile, gets hypnotized by media-driven images of patriotism after 9/11, joins the Army and is sent to fight in Iraq.
Steven Hoggett's choreography is limited but quirky and jerky in a strangely effective way. Hoggett underscores the punk rhythms with spastic accents and group collages that make the mostly dialogue-free show vaguely reminiscent of Movin' Out, the much more graceful dance-theater collaboration between Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp.
When Idiot goes to war, as Movin' Out did, it briefly transcends cliche and achieves a dreamlike peak in the Extraordinary Girl sequence, as a highly medicated Tunny soars above other hospitalized U.S. soldiers in a romantic aerial fantasy with a woman in a burqa.
Backed by a lively six-member onstage band, the energetic 20-member cast whips through the many percussion-focused songs like drug addicts strung out on amphetamines.
With welcome changes of pace that come as a great relief, however, several of the best singers slow down poignantly for the handful of songs that brim with wistful melody.
Among the most resonant are the few songs that slow down to allow some subtler feelings to shine through: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, with lovely harmonies shared by Nee, DiPalma and Hettrick; Know Your Enemy, with Trent Saunders' vivid drug-pusher St. Jimmy boosting Nee and O'Farrell; and Give Me Novocaine, sung by O'Farrell with unexpected feeling (given the lyrics).
American Idiot is packed with profanity, which seems all the more extreme because those are among the few words that consistently emerge clearly through the blaring music. The show is not suggested for younger theatergoers.
Overall, the adaptation of Green Day songs by Mayer and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong falls short of the first-rank of rock musicals. From its weak book to its bestselling but mostly non-theatrical score, Idiot lacks the melody and relative clarity of Tommy, Hair, Rent and Spring Awakening while covering much the same territory to lesser effect.
Green Day fans won't care. But if you dislike loud music and flashing lights invading your brain or prefer old-fashioned book musicals with clear lyrics, strong melodies and characters beyond the one-dimensional, consider giving your subscription tickets to teenagers or other young adults. They'll be happy, and you'll be happier.