I LOVE IT: American Idiot is just another example of where American Theatre is heading, building a new generation of theatre goers who will see the performing arts for more than just big flashy dance numbers, Tops Hats, and Cats on stage. American Idiot follows the lead of many other rock musicals which have made big splash on the great white way, such as Passing Strange, Spring Awakening, Hair, In the Heights, RENT, etc. These musical do more then just entertain they speak to us on a human level.
The story of American Idiot the musical is based on the Green Day album by the same title as well as their newest release 21st Century breakdown. It follows three working class characters (Johnny, Will, and Tunny) from the suburbs to the city, on their journey to find redemption in a troubled/crazy world. The lead character is Johnny (aka the Jesus of Suburbia) played by the ever-so-talented Tony Award winner John Gallagher Jr. No one else could make sense in that role, no one. Gallagher is a ball of energy on stage and made all the Green Day songs which he sings his own, which is a huge task especially for diehard fans of Green Day who are ingrained with Billy Joe’s voice in their head. Now when listen to the album, I cannot help but think Gallagher’s renditions and rocker dance moves. When he started to sing Jesus of Suburbia my breath was taken away by his voice, his presence on stage, and his passion. My favorite song he sings is When It’s Time; please make a cast album so I can listen to Gallagher sing that song over and over again. Michcel Esper played Will a young man forced to grow up too soon with news of his girlfriend being pregnant. It broke my heart to watch Esper’s transformation from a man full of life to a man wondering where his life went. Matt Caplan played Tunny who abandons Johnny in the city to join the army. Caplan brought so much to the character and his rendition of Extraordinary Girl left wanting to hear more from him. Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy Johnny’s alter ego, brought it on stage! I could not help but think to myself throughout the performance that Vincent would make an excellent Hidwig (hint hint casting directors)! Last but not least Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatsername, she blew my mind! When she sings 21 guns/ Letterbomb I wanted to run on stage and rock out with her and her chorus of girls in rage.
The play just opened just this past Wednesday September 16th and is scheduled to run until November 1st with record breaking ticket sales for the theatre. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre is a perfect place for this stage production which allows the audience to get up close and personal with the in your face rock show taking place on stage. It is a small theatre and it must have been sold out because that place was packed with people young and old. I must say that Michael Mayer of Spring Awakening fame did an excellent job turning Green day’s hit record American Idiot to life on stage (No wonder why this man is aTony winner)! It has the feel of Spring Awakening but stand on its own as piece of history in American Theatre and Rock Music. The Orchestration, Arrangements, and Musical Supervision by Tony Award winner Tom Kitt (of Next to Normal fame) was amazing. Overall this creative team rocked it.
BUT…. Here is one problem I see with the show. Because the show relays so heavily in the lyrics in the songs to tell the story, older crowds and people who are not familiar with the album many have a hard time understanding it. Also this is story about this generation and the problems/issues we have in today’s society, because of the generation gaps between older crowds they may have a hard time understanding why there is so much frustration and anger in this coming of age storyline. I overheard one older couple having this conversation. Wife said “I understood the story but I do not understand why they were so in rage against the world?” Husband to the wife “Well you got to remember these kids are not from our generation. They grew up with so many other things to worry about besides themselves, in a different world, with more issues with the mass media, politics, and society as a whole. Those are things our time did not have to deal with.” Wife “That’s true, I guess I would not know what it is like to be young in today’s world”. I overheard another conversation between two women. Women 1 “I wish I could knew the lyrics before seeing the show, I would have understood what they were yelling about”. Women 2 “Yeah, I think if I knew the songs I would understand the story”.
Overall, if you can figure out away to get up to the Bay Area before November 1st comes around DO IT! I hope that the powers at be will let this show make it to Broadway, and if not a film at least. But please whatever happens please try to keep as much of this cast as possible because they truly are sooo talented and make this show what it is!
"21 Guns"-song from American Idiot