Theatre Review: Green Day’s American Idiot provides raucous, wild fun
Green Day’s punk opera, American Idiot landed at the Palace Theater last night. The raucous, wild musical provides a roller coaster of a journey that may feel more like a rock concert than “musical theater.” However, American Idiot serves as a gem of theatrical design that must be seen for the experience, despite the fact that at least half of Tuesday night’s audience felt highly uncomfortable the entire time.
Green Day began as part of the punk scene in the late eighties in the Bay Area and reached break-out success with their 1994 album Dookie. They found international acclaim throughout the nineties, with many punk fans accusing them of “selling out” particularly with the 1997 release of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” After a decline in popularity in the late nineties, the band took a sabbatical to write and record their self-described best work. Finding inspiration from The Who’s Tommy, Green Day released American Idiot, a politically-charged rock opera album, in September 2004. In 2010, American Idiot appeared on stage, first in the Bay Area then New York.
The show follows the story of three young men who grew up in generic Suburbia: Johnny (the Jesus of Suburbia), Will, and Tunny. Fed up with life in their town, the three plan to escape to the city, but right before leaving Will finds out his girlfriend, Heather, is pregnant. He stays home with her. Despite this, Johnny and Tunny hop a bus to join the revolution and excitement of city life. Unable to cope with the adjustment, Tunny joins the military and is deployed. Alone and frustrated, Johnny searches for friends, girls, and ultimately purpose.
Rather than make a standard announcement about silencing cell phones, the show kicks off with a news announcement about North Korea. As the curtain rises, we see the cast staring towards at least thirty television screens flashing news, trash TV, and pop culture before the cacophony erupts into “American Idiot” complete with powerful dancing and pulsing strobes. The energy of the young cast flows off the stage. Alex Nee captures the angst and vulnerability of Johnny with his voice that possesses an uncanny resemblance to Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Casey O’Farrell’s (Will) sweet voice provides a welcome change of pace from the rock-overload during “Give Me Novacaine.” Alyssa Di Palma stands out as the famed Whatsername balancing the dream of the girl with the reality of the woman.
American Idiot won two Tonys: best scenic design and best lighting. Thankfully, the touring version maintains these two talented designers as well as the original costume and projection designer. All merge into a beautiful blend of rock concert, punk-centric chaos. Uniquely enough, the show uses a substantial amount of live video feed and flying actors. Innovative and refreshing use of scaffolding and other miscellaneous parts of the set aid in the dare-devil nature of the show, particularly in “Holiday.”
American Idiot, the album, came out at the right point in my life. The political pointedness and permeating nihilism conjures up nostalgia of those “F– everything” days. This brings up another point: please see this show if possible, but prepare for it. American Idiot steers away from traditional CAPA offerings. The show contains copious cussing, sex, near nudity, intravenous drug use, other drug use, anti-American themes, loud music, and bright lights/strobes. It is a Green Day album thrown on stage—not for every “theater-goer,” but certainly worth a watch purely for the spectacle.
Photos by John Daughtry.
American Idiot is in town through March 24 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street and plays Wed.-Sat. at 8 pm; Sat. at 2 pm; Sun. at 1 pm & 6:30 pm. Ticket prices range. More information can be found online at www.capa.com.