By Kaitlin MacRae
It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but it turns out that Green Day’s rock opus American Idiot (2004) and Broadway are a match made in theatrical heaven.
Rider’s Student Entertainment Council sponsored an off-campus trip Sunday to see American Idiot, which made its Broadway debut in April 2009. Directed by Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), Idiot tells the story of three friends trying to find their place in a post-9/11 world that’s plagued by war, terrorism and conformity.
Johnny (John Gallagher Jr., Spring Awakening), Tunny (Stark Sands, Flags of Our Fathers), and Will (Van Hughes, understudy to Michael Esper) plan to set out for a life of adventure — of making something of themselves. Will’s plans are quickly derailed by his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy, and his friends depart without him.
The show begins with “American Idiot,” which catapults the cast into a frenzy of dancing. Although the choreography at times seems a bit too contrived and literal for a “punk” show, the opening number sets the stage for an hour and a half of nonstop energy.
What sets the show apart from other musicals on Broadway is the way the story is told. Rather than bogging down the audience with loads of dialogue, the cast performs the story through song. Each number projects the narratives of the main characters. Those stories, however, sometimes get lost within each other; for example, while Johnny and Tunny are exploring a new city, Will is left behind, feeling isolated and trapped by his pregnant girlfriend. Will’s scenario falls by the wayside for much of the play, but when it’s time to perform, Hughes (and Esper) rises to the occasion. Still, it can be difficult to figure out whom to focus on.
Another actor who tears up the stage is Tony Vincent, who plays the raucous and somewhat scary-looking St. Jimmy. St. Jimmy is the antagonist to Johnny, fueling his drug-induced haze of partying and sleeping around. Vincent, with his half-shaved head of jet black hair, pale skin and raw voice, is harsh and jarring to look at, but also hard to forget.
Gallagher is no stranger to Broadway, and the way he tackles Johnny is reminiscent of his character Moritz in 2006’s Spring Awakening. Insecure and vulnerable, though hopeful at the same time, Gallagher is on point with what the role calls for: a good guy who takes a few wrong turns, and ultimately finds his way back home.
The ensemble adds a new dimension to the music of American Idiot. “21 Guns” offers chilling harmonies, and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatsername) and Christina Sajous (The Extraordinary Girl) take on the lead vocals in a refreshing departure from Billie Joe Armstrong’s signature voice. The women in the cast continue to hold their own with numbers like “Letterbomb” and “Extraordinary Girl.”
“Give Me Novacaine” is also a strong performance. Will’s longing for numbness throughout the song is punctuated with choreography by war-torn soliders, while the lights and multiple screens displayed on set give the illusion of bombs detonating right on stage.
Despite minor flaws, American Idiot works. From the unconventional choreography to the cast’s palpable chemistry, the show is one big piece of eye candy from beginning to end. Stay for the encore for an additional treat.
Though fans of Green Day’s earlier records, like Dookie and Nimrod, might be put off by the band’s shameless transition into the mainstream, it’s undeniable that American Idiot was crafted with the same attitude that punk music (and Green Day) is known for: angst, rebellion, political awareness and passion.
The talented cast of 19 brings the story behind American Idiot to fruition, breathing into it a relatable sense of life that the album alone could not provide. Is it different? Yes. Daring? Absolutely. And while it may not be a show to bring your mom to, you’d be an Idiot not to see it.