Let's Slap Some Lipstick on this Pig

American-Idiot-play.jpgAmerican Idiot

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.

Don't Waste Your Money

Music performed nicely and stage good, but not much of a meningful story and what story there was is depressing nd morbid. I could thnk of 10 things I'd rather be doing as I sat through this.

How Much Would You Pay?

I saw the play, as well. I really wanted to love it, but I didn't. I'm a huge Green Day fan, and Billy J. A's songs are catchy as hell, but they barely hold up as a true operatic narrative. And while Gallagher was riveting in Spring Awakening, he seemed to be channeling the same character type.

Why can't Broadway cast real rockers, or actors with rock voices, with acting chops. They did with the original Hair. My dear friend Peppy Castro, once the lead singer of the Blues Magoo, player Berger in 1970 on Broadway.

It's slightly better than most of the jukebox musicals we've had the last 5 years, but not by much. (I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the cheese factor of Rock of Ages with all of the hair metal tunes and overt posing. And run to see FELA!.)

One of the biggest problems with American Idiot is pat character development. If this is truly a rock opera, I need something new, something with a fresh perspective. Not just three main characters wallowing in their apathetic über slacker lives. We never learn why they are so disgruntled with everyone and everything.

Tommy had a deaf-dumb-blind kid, a pedophile uncle, an acid queen, etc.. In the late '90s we had the audacious transvestite rock star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch about a botched gender reassignment surgery. (Where, oh where is James Cameron Mitchell?)

Seems like the director is trying to please too many people; moms, dads, faux punk kids, tourists on holiday in the dangerous city of NYC. (Gotta make their money back from some gullible audience.) Moreover, it's hard to buy into the show's punk aesthetic when tickets are sold at Broadway prices.

Can't imagine the blue hairs from Jersey attending the matinee on this one. Although I'd love to see their reaction.

The producers would be better served to have done what Hedwig did. Mount the show in some funky space downtown. Charge less for tickets. Do midnight shows. Make it an affordable show for the crowd it's hoping to attract. Moreover, Blue Man hasn't been hampered by being Off-B'way.

Proceed with caution.


I Don't Understand the Title of Your Critique

How does it apply? There doesn't seem to be a connection (a wordplay), which wit needs to be actually witty.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to read your review just hours after perusing The New York Time's rave.

But after attending Everyday Rapture this week, which Ben Brantley also raved about (falsely comparing its star to Bette Midler), I'm sadly thinking you might even be right about this musical, although I hope when I do actually see it, you're blatantly wrong. My fingers are crossed.

The Lip Stick & The Pig...

The term, "putting lipstick on a pig" is a reference to dressing something up so as to disguise its true nature... in this case I was referring to the intense emotion and constant energy that was being used to disguise the fact that for all their yelling and playing with there being some deep commentary on America, "American Idiot" doesn't say anything at all. In short, nothing is being dressed up as something.

In regards to the dinosaurs reviewing theatre for The Times, Brantley and Isherwood are generally fluffers of staged mediocrity. Though they occasionally see the obvious, most of their reviews seem to support what they think will sell and I'm sure they're all afraid (The Times isn't the only one raving about The Emperor's new clothing) that if they don't jump on the bandwagon with this one they will look like they are out of tune with the voice of the next generation (though, ironically, the opposite is true). Isherwood, in his review of "Idiot", references "Green Day" as a "punk" band, though the band itself acknowledged its departure from punk around the time of "Nimrod" and it is highly debatable if they ever were punk in the first place (a real punker would even bother to argue this). These reviewers don't understand the material they are reviewing and are only helping to further insulate American Theatre from the realm of relevance.

I could give a three hour long dissertation about everything wrong with this musical and how it represents many of the ways in which theatre is failing, but go ahead and read the comments from readers below The Times review. Though worded less cleverly than Isherwood's mindless gushing, the majority of these audience members are speaking with greater clarity and honesty about what they actually saw.

The Pigs and the Dinosaurs

Haven't seen the show and don't expect to. Shows with people impersonating rock stars and Broadway versions of rock hits strike me crass. I'm not sure what is more promiscuous, a show featuring the music of Abba or one on John Lennon. Anyway I really enjoyed reading your honest review. But what makes you think the "dinosaurs" are in touch with some other generation? Maybe they're just out of touch with theater, period. Brantley will never be forgiven for wasting $250 of my aunt's money when on the strength of his rave review I went with her to see the Dan Sullivan production of "A Moon for the Misbegotten". My aunt's comment as the curtain came down: "How could they let this open?" My answer: "I don't know. At least it's over." The first act held together only on the strength of Roy Dotrice's performance; the second was painful. I don't think Isherwood is any better than Brantley. It's too bad, the Times has some decent arts reviewers, but these guys don't seem to take their job seriously.

Couldn't agree more...

I suffered through Spacey's version of "Moon for the Miscasting" and his rank imitation of Robard's great film rendition of the role. You are correct. The dinosaurs aren't in touch with any generation or theatre itself and they smugly sit in a bubble of pretension, removed from the public, failing in every way as the watch dogs they're suppose to be. I really wish audiences would boo bad productions instead of giving them obligatory standing ovations.

Please give your aunt my condolences on the lost $250.

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