Green Day’s American Idiot was created by Billie Joe Armstrong from the pop punk group Green Day and was based off the band’s albums American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Since Armstrong is not known for being part of the musical theatre scene, it was a surprise to find out in 2010 that he was releasing a musical on Broadway. What wasn’t surprising was the tone and message coming out of the musical. It was textbook Green Day –punk rock with polish. American Idiot (the album) was released during the time of the George W. Bush administration, so some of the play’s politics are anchored to that time frame. Still Director Tim Espinosa made sure to keep this version more current and committed to the musical’s rebellious spirit: taking jabs at Trump, Islamophobia, xenophobia and much more. The theatrics and music in the show are quite overwhelming, but the stage is a treat to behold. The story on the other hand feels rather weak and –when compared with the other outside theatrics –make the show feel imbalanced at times.
The story of American Idiot follows three friends: Johnny played by Tony Torrico, Tunny played by Zachary Bane and Will played by Brandon Burns. Tired of their suburban lives, they all decide to leave home and go on their different paths. Johnny follows his heart while struggling with drug use. Disillusioned with life Tunny joins the military and gets severely injured in the war. Will finds himself stuck at home after finding out he impregnated his girlfriend Heather. As the story unfolds we watch as these characters struggle through life until they once again meet as friends at the end of the show. The story is the weakest part of this production and is probably the reason this show received more technical then performance awards. The pacing of the show is non-stop song after song after song, and there’s very little time for catching your breath and getting to know the characters. They do a good job using the visuals and singing to kind of fill in the blanks, but you receive more of a feeling of what’s going on instead of it being clear to the audience. The message is clear throughout the production, but the story itself is incredibly muffled and hard to keep track of if you’re going into it fresh. The show is almost more like a concert rather than a musical with maybe a few more lines of dialogue in between each song.
The show shines with the best set design I’ve seen all year. Kevin Clowes’ set design for this show is exceptional. The space exhibits a grungy punk lifestyle. From the Dead Kennedy posters to the dingy couch put out in the front left hand corner of the stage and the politically charged TVs hanging from the top of the stage, it gets you amped right from the moment you walk into the theatre. Everyone involved in the work of putting this set piece together should be proud of such professional work.
Performance wise the aggression and energy I was looking for in this production isn’t always there. The music played by the band Feste would sometimes drown out the performers, who might not be use too singing in the loud style this music requires. However, this was not the case with many of the performers. Tony Torrico was right at home onstage the entire show and was an excellent choice for the part of Johnny. Torricio shines in the moments when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar –even without much help from the mics in the auditorium. It was easy to make out what he was saying during his songs. Parker Griffin –who plays Joshua and is not even one of the main characters in the story –was exceptional every time he came on stage. Jessie Wise’s performance as St. Jimmy was incredibly spirited and full of personality. I loved it. The rest of the cast did exceptionally well, especially when they harmonized together.
The dancing and truly exciting rope gymnastic moments Lauren Louis performed made this show energetic and fun to watch. Fun –that’s what this show was for me. A fun show, put on in a fun way and you’ll enjoy it if you’re not looking to deeply into the story and characters.