Last night at the St. James Theatre where the punk rock, drink friendly musical American Idiot by GREEN DAY has just opened I was assaulted. Assaulted by strobe lights, guitar riffs, ear piecing amplification, drugs, plenty of profanity, multiple video screens, not so young screaming women in the audience and three lonely, angry and alienated losers (one actually loses his leg) on stage who are trying to find their way in life that they find little pleasure in blaming everyone else for the pickle they are in during the Presidency of George W. Bush.
The visuals are stunning (set design by Christine Jones, lighting by Kevin Adams and Video/Projections by Darrel Maloney). But to paraphrase Macbeth, “It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying not too much of anything.” And will probably run forever.
It’s a very famous album. Selling millions of copies. Director Michael Mayer along with Billie Joe Armstrong (lyrics) have tried to make some narrative sense of the songs from the album with the very thinnest of story lines which comes across as an elaborate rock concert about three guys. A rock concert that has some very good music. I was surprised. And found that I liked a lot of the music when it wasn’t threatening my eardrums. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is gorgeous.
The cardio-vascular choreography by Steven Hoggett is very exciting at first but wears thin in its repetitious robotic movements and foot stomping. He does come up with a dream sequence that is part Cirque du Soleil and part Peter Pan which is bizarre but fun.
The three guys in question are Johnny (a frenetic John Gallagher Jr.) Will (a laid back Michael Esper) and Tunny (a compelling Stark Sands). They are not your usual threesome. They are definitely not Gabey, Chip and Ozzie from On The Town – looking for a good time. No, Johnny comes to the Big Apple where he is seduced by sex with Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and drugs by his supplier St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent). Will opts to stay at home doing drugs and guzzling beer and getting his girlfriend Heather (Mary Faber) pregnant. And Tunny goes off to war, losing a leg but gaining the aide of a nurse – The Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous). There is little or no character development and we do not care what happens to these whining adolescents.
But fans of GREEN DAY do care. They care about the songs and that’s what they get in spades. The entire cast is excellent and sings with an energy and anger that just about blows the roof off of the theatre. And I suppose that’s enough for them. It really is a bare bones production in that the plot and characters are bare bones not the elaborate visuals that assault you non stop for ninety intermission less minutes.
Last night, after the encore that has everyone playing a guitar (which reminded me of the ukulele ending for No No Nannette – which couldn’t be any further from what I was seeing) Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool – GREEN DAY themselves – whipped the crowd into a frenzy, raising the decibel levels and rocked out a couple of numbers encouraging the audience to sing along. Which they did. I have never heard such an ovation ever in any theatre for any performer or group in my entire life. It was wild!
www.AmericanIdiotonBroadway.com Photo: Paul Kolnik