Who's The Idiot Now?

american-idiot-broadwayAmerican Idiot

I had no idea how I would react to the new Broadway production American Idiot. I grew up in the '50s and '60s, so I certainly am not the target demographic. I’ll confess that I know almost nothing about Green Day and their music, and I had never listened to the album upon which the musical is based. I’ve been a fan of some rock-oriented musicals, such as Movin’ Out, Spring Awakening, and Tommy, but have been less enthusiastic about Rent, Hair, and Passing Strange. After that preamble, my bottom line on American Idiot: I very much enjoyed it.

The major reasons for my enjoyment start with the score and the staging. I would never picture myself responding to a punk rock score, but the Idiot score was exceptionally tuneful and attractive, with one strong and pleasingly melodic number after another. Early in previews, there supposedly had been some problems people had understanding all the lyrics, but I thought most of them were audible and easily understood.

The production itself is very impressive, with a huge, vertical unit set, including multiple TV screens and projections, and it is staged with enormous imagination, ingenuity, and high energy by Michael Meyer (who also directed Spring Awakening), with an able assist from choreographer Steven Hoggett. The net effect is a production that is visually exciting, constantly in motion, often fascinating, and highly theatrical.

There have been complaints about the minimal story. The lack of a story is the major factor in why I was disappointed and distanced by the new Twyla Tharp musical, Come Fly Away, and story issues are the reason I have never been a big Hair fan. But the story in American Idiot was just enough to keep me involved while the production’s stronger elements did the rest of the heavy lifting. True, there was not much depth or character development, which isn’t ideal, but the energy level, the caliber of the score, and the visuals more than compensated. There is not a high level of emotional involvement, and the audience really doesn’t develop enough of a bond with the characters to care about them, but that did not prevent my being drawn into the proceedings, and there even was a touching moment near the end of the show, involving the three friends around whom the story revolves.

The cast performs well, displaying enthusiasm, talent, and skill. It really is an ensemble piece, with a group curtain call and no individual bows. The standout is John Gallagher, the Tony winner from Spring Awakening, who, pardon the expression, rocks as Johnny, the disillusioned lead character. There is an arc to Johnny’s story, as well as the stories of his two friends. Still, because of the way the characters are written, it is not easy for the other actors to really shine, although I did like Stark Sands, who was so powerful in Journey’s End a couple years back and shows here he can sing too.

American Idiot has shades of Tommy, Spring Awakening, Hair, and especially Movin’ Out. Is this a rock concert, a rock opera, a Broadway musical, or some hybrid? To me, it is more than a concert, but that is for theatergoers to decide for themselves. Not everyone will respond to it, and story issues will bother some people, for valid reasons. But, somewhat to my surprise, American Idiot provided me an effective and entertaining evening, and it is a show I will look forward to revisiting, especially after becoming more familiar with the music. - James Miller

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Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.

A slick musical with no heart

The music was good. But the plot was essentially three guys from Jersey (all from good, middle-class, caring homes) whining for an hour and a half about their teenage angst. Get a life (or three).

In one scene, one of our heroes shoots up on stage (because he's bored and alienated) and then, when his girlfriend proves reluctant, he shoots her up too. This is somebody he cares about?

In another, one of the guys' girlfriends sings the evening's only true ballad to a plastic doll. This could be a metaphor for the whole play.

Is this really what Broadway has sunk to? Why should I care about any of these self-absorbed, narcissistic blunderheads anyway?

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