Friday, March 16, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Feeling Idiotic

The punk band Green Day's 2004, Grammy Award-winning album American Idiot provided something of a narrative in its critique of the Bush-era, post-9/11 USA. The CD's credits even refer to bisexual front man/lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong as "starring" in the piece, so it wasn't much of a surprise when plans were announced to adapt it as a Broadway musical. Billed as Green Day's American Idiot, the theatrical result -- which is just now making it's Los Angeles debut at the Ahmanson Theatre through April 22nd -- is pretty stunning.

Co-adapted (with Armstrong) and directed by Michael Mayer (who has become the premiere stage chronicler of this generation's angst between this and his Tony Award-winning work on Spring Awakening), the musical spins an abstract, largely sung-through tale of three brash young American friends who end up taking different paths to maturity. Johnny, played by the occasionally over-the-top but generally riveting Van Hughes, falls into drug abuse faster than you can say/sing the score's potent "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Then there's sweet-voiced Jake Epstein as Will, who discovers on the eve of his move with Johnny and fellow best friend Tunny to the big city that he's gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Tunny (the Channing Tatum-esque Scott J. Campbell) is subsequently co-opted into the "War on Terror" and joins the military, where he receives his own rude induction into adulthood.


The trio encounter such album-inspired characters as "St. Jimmy," a devilish drug dealer, and love interest "Whatsername" along their various journeys, and they do so accompanied by chart-topping hits "Wake Me Up When September Ends," "Are We the Waiting" and the title track. As compelling as these lead performers and songs are, American Idiot on stage would not succeed as well as it does if it weren't for its multi-talented supporting cast members, Darrel Maloney's riveting video/production design, and the choreography of Great Britain's Steven Hoggett.

While Hoggett's stage-pounding dance moves are occasionally predictable and repetitive, they certainly express the show's rebellious, down right confrontational spirit. Hoggett also creates a spectacular, drug-induced airborne duet between Campbell's Tunny and "Extraordinary Girl" Nicci Claspell. I was initially concerned that the handful of female performers/characters in the show were objectified, but there are enough men in boxer briefs on display to balance things out.


It was interesting to watch the reaction of the opening night crowd (which included Oscar nominee Tom Hulce (who also co-produced), Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, and gay blogger extraordinaire Perez Hilton along with various blue-hairs) to American Idiot in LA. Essentially the first decade of the 21st century's answer to such prior revolutionary musicals as Hair or Rent (and, in my opinion, more effective than Spring Awakening), Armstrong & Mayer's opus may not have cross-generational appeal. American Idiot, however, does offer energy to spare as well as a critical yet balanced take on enduring geo-political concerns. You'd be an idiot to miss it.

Reverend's Rating: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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