Review :: Green Day’s American Idiot: The Musical Falls Short

AmericanIdiotPlaybillI loved Green Day before I ever went to my first show. By 1994 they had already surpassed their punk roots and broke into the “alternative” mainstream. Harder and catchier than their grunge peers, Green Day brought pop punk to suburban high schools, with a vengeance. Since that time there has been an ongoing battle regarding where they fit in and what subculture gets to claim them as their own.

I am not sure what side of the divide I fall on; I can make a compelling argument for each one. I believe that this ambivalence is rooted deep in the band, and shows very clearly in their newest endeavor: American Idiot, the musical. For this review, I am taking the stance that doing something as unpunk rock as a musical is one of the most punk things that Green Day could have done.

Before the curtain opens, we hear a quote from G.W. Bush and the first number is the title track, “American Idiot”, lines of rebellion and unrest sung by various cast members. The number is high energy and sets the audience up for a non-stop 90 minute feat of singing, dancing, and pure endurance. In this ensemble cast each member has their moment or two to take the center stage and flex their vocal muscles. The talent of the cast was undeniably the most impressive part of the production.

Green Day’s songs translated well into a story, and the arrangement for stage did not betray their sound while also sounding natural on the stage. The production relied too much on Green Day’s lyrics. Instead of using music and lyrics to frame and enhance the story line and production, they were left bearing all the weight.

The scenes were superficially related to each other, due to the audience following the characters and their situations, yet they never seemed to build on one another. I wanted to see this small town punk scene and understand these characters so I could feel the disappointment when Will (Mike Esper) realizes that he cannot leave this small town because his girlfriend (Mary Farber) is pregnant; or the despair when Tunny (Stark Sands) feels that the only option that he has is to go into the military; or the loneliness and betrayal that Johnny (John Gallagar Jr) feels when his best friend, his only friend, abandons him in the city; or the desperation that leads Johnny to St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent) and drugs; or the heart-break of the woman he loves giving up on him. Simply saying I wanted more. All of these elements are there, in the writing, the music and the actors, but they haven’t been fleshed out and conveyed to the audience. The run time is only 90 minutes, with a little more dialogue, a song or two from some earlier albums, some skateboards, and kids tagging walls in the beginning would really set the stage for these characters on a more individual level.

The musical quickly abandons the politics of the American Idiot album and focuses on these three characters down their three, very different, paths in life. The emotional climax of the story, is the most understated scene of the production. “When September Ends” features each ensemble member walking out onto the stage, one by one, some in shirts and ties or modest business skirts and fewer are in jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies. This was the first scene where the audience was able to feel the emotional significance without being told.

Numbers like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “American Idiot” highlight the talent of this ensemble cast. The stand out performance in this musical belongs to Tony Vincent. From the moment he steps on stage, he owns it. He not only embodies his menacing, alluring, intoxicating character of St. Jimmy, but his voice made us all sit up a bit straighter. Each time he takes the stage he commands our attention and respect.

I suppose that this whole review can boil down to, I enjoyed this musical but it wasn’t as poignant as it had the potential to be.

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