They had nothing to say and they said it loudly. Despite the very energetic efforts from a cast of attractive young men and women, American Idiot is weighted down by a pervading sense of apathy which escapes the confines of its thematic intent and infests the overall tone of the production.
The book, or what little of a book there is, skips out on the bill early on, leaving the music of Green Day with a tab it couldn't possibly cover. These songs may be able to carry a concert, but they lack the meat to make up for this music's missing components.
The story is fragmented and random, loosely following the lives of three friends who end up divided between three contrived extremes: they part, things happen, they meet again. The characters do not understand themselves, so much so that it's difficult to discern if this is a statement on today's youth or just sloppy writing. Serious American criticisms are toyed with (including mindless consumerism, unjust wars, and disenfranchised youth) but entirely abandoned when it comes to meaningful exploration. This sensationalized, hyper-emotional, and nothing-below-the-surface approach to real issues may be the most convincing argument made by the piece if it weren't for the fact that the musical itself is guilty of this fatal flaw.
John Gallagher, Jr. (Johnny) gives respectable renditions of Green Day's more popular songs, but unlike his performance in Spring Awakening he is unable to fill the void of nothingness left by the music video-inspired pseudo-plot. Similarly, Mary Faber, who was a breath of fresh air in Avenue Q, does all she can with the role of Heather but can't change the fact that that isn't much at all. Despite inherent disappointments with musical theater voices singing rock 'n' roll numbers the cast members exert total commitment, are strong in what they do, and cannot be blamed for the show's shortcomings. Any praise given for this production will be largely offered due to their sincere efforts.
Production quality is another area that escapes blame. Christine Jones's scenic design consists of two looming walls littered with pop culture references and punctuated by appropriately distracting televisions, providing an overwhelming quality that matches the themes being attempted. Kevin Adams's lighting design, much like his work in Spring Awakening, makes heavy use of unconventional, on-stage light sources that teeter on overkill but are fitting for this piece. The Video/Projection design, by Darrel Maloney, makes good use of the set's expansive back walls and creates some dazzling moments of visual intimidation and beauty. All this works but the show still doesn't.
Director and co-author of the book Michael Mayer seems the most likely person to blame for what is wrong with this misguided cacophony. Mayer's direction seems to have consisted of designating portions of the stage that would be dedicated to each of the three friends and allowing them to camp in those spaces while the chorus runs around freely rocking out and emoting. Mayer seems to be banking on young people (assuming young people can afford a Broadway ticket, which is a sinister assumption indeed) to relate to this frenetic energy and wild confusion of disconnected emotions, but the image constructed is so vague that audiences will be forced to project themselves on to the stage if they want to see anything at all. Steven Hoggett's choreography is a bend of mosh-pit protocol and modern movement with accents of ballet that caps the seething excitement of the performers, building to some well-place moments of explosion.
Like Spring Awakening before it, American Idiot is yet another failed attempt to capture the voice of this generation in the way that HAIR embodied the anti-conformist spirit of the late '60s. I wonder if today's musical theater will ever get its Nirvana, a show that will wipe away the garbage over night and establish a new and vibrant anthem we can all shamelessly sing along with. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.