Monday, April 19, 2010

Green Grow The Lies and Attacks - American Idiot - Musical Review

American Idiot - St. James Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Green Day, Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, Directed by Michael Mayer, Choreographed by Steven Hoggett
Opens Apr. 20th 2010. Note: Review based on an early preview.

Yes it is! Green Day has made it to Broadway! Well, the band isn't on Broadway themselves, but their new musical, based on their concept album American Idiot (originally thought of as a base for a musical movie) has made it to the Great White Way and they're painting it Green!

Now thanks to Michael Mayer and most of his team from Spring Awakening, including Christine Jones and Kevin Adams designing a simple and bold look with their sets and lighting, layered with Darrel Maloney's Video and Projection Designs, have turned one of my favorite albums into an exhilarating and visceral theatrical experience. Hearing Green Day songs sung in a chorus is simply wonderous and chilling.

Green Day's album American Idiot always felt like it had a story in it, and was built as a thread for something operatic (and their music video for "Wake Me Up When September Ends" hinted at it) so Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer have pieced the album and some new songs off Green Day's latest album (including the song "21 Guns" into a big Broadway musical. While the story is threadbare and almost non-existent, the musical is shaped more as vignettes (much like Spring Awakening or Company) to tell a more generalized story of three bored, angry and ambivalent youths which becomes less about a particular character or their story and more symbolic representatives of an apathetic and angry generation.

The "story" follows Johnny (John Galagher Jr., above right, Tony winner for Spring Awakening) and his friends Will (Michael Esper, above left, A Man For All Seasons) and Tunny (Stark Sands, above centre Twelfth Night) as they rage from bored teenagers in suburbia before the real world forces them out of their cushy anger. They're young people who are angry at the lies they've been fed and they're ready to attack at... well... something... maybe... everything... maybe... well, nothing really. Welcome to the new generation. "Welcome to a new kind of tension. All across the alien nation."

Will finds himself stuck when his girlfriend Heather (Mary Faber, above with Esper, Saved) becomes pregnant, Johnny meets Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones, Passing Strange) but still falls into the traps of drugs via St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent), while Tunny tries to find himself and his purpose by enlisting in the army.

It's a simplistic tale, told in an intermissionless 90 minutes, but Green Day's songs, Michael Mayer's direction and Steven Hoggett's pulsating choreography holds it mostly together, with only a few moments that slow to a dragging pace from an oversimplified story. It's an interesting development in musical theatre that continues to shift the Broadway musical into a more artistic ethereal artform. Long are the days when Oklahoma (which improved upon the play Green Grow The Lilacs it's based on) was one of the first musicals that used the songs to advance the story. Now the songs ARE the story.

With the thin (but sometimes surprisingly humourous) book, the show relies on the staging to define the songs. The unexpected choreography by Steven Hoggett (who also did the brilliant Black Watch) injects some real emotions into the characters (and the ensemble) and makes the movements into theatrical brilliance. Hoggett's movements give the story a depth it may lack with the spoken words, and the ensemble is spectacularly game in the physicality of it all.

John Galagher Jr. leads the show as the most central character Johnny and gives an honest stripped down performance in a highly stylized show.

Tony Vincent wails out Green Day's songs as the impish evil St. Jimmy, the enticer to all of Johnny's weaknesses and ultimately his demise. With his punk rock look, Vincent's gives a wicked and terrifically piercing performance.

Stark Sands, almost unrecognizable from his good-boyishly good looks, gives a beautifully heartfelt performance as Tunny, the man who gets easily seduced by the army (Joshua Henry (The Wiz) singing "Favorite Son") and then loses a limb in the casualty of war, while winning the love of The Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous, above with Sands). Sands (who was previously nominated for a Tony in the revival of the play Journey's End) has such a stunning voice that works beautifully with Green Day songs that it's a wonder he hasn't been in a Broadway musical before (though he did do the recent Bonnie & Clyde musical at La Jolla).

Rebecca Naomi Jones plays more of an idea of a girl than an actual one (she doesn't even have a name, and is referred to as Whatsername), but Jones' gusto (so fabulous in Passing Strange and Wig Out) gives the outline of a woman the depth to counter John Galagher Jr.'s Johnny.

Mary Faber and Michael Esper do what they can but probably have the least amount and least interesting story to work with, though at least Faber gets to belt out her fabulous voice. Esper's voice is shaky at times but gives an endearing performance, especially considering the minimal information we have about Will.

The rest of the ensemble includes some personal favorites including Andrew Call (a standout in both Les Miserables and Glory Days), Gerard Canonico (Spring Awakening), Brian Charles Johnson (Spring Awakening) and Theo Stockman (Hair).

While the overall show didn't grip me as emotionally as other rock musicals (Rent, Hair, Spring Awakening, Tommy), there's something incredibly exciting about the theatrical nature of American Idiot. With a backdrop of screens scattered on a wall with huge projections overlaying it all, the youthful anger at the American middle class bourgeois lifestyle is wonderfully translated into an artistic emotionally angsty purge. The imperfect stage show still has more energy, soul and spirit in its 90 minutes than half of Broadway put together. While the show is "calling out to idiot America" (and would have been a good lesson to them), it will probably be most appreciated by those who "don't want to be an American Idiot".

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


Diederick said...

This seems to be a mix for success. Perhaps one to be compared with All Shook Up, though I think the Green Day audience is a bit limited compared to what Elvis used to entertain.

Sands sure has the looks.

I can't wait to see this.

DuchessKitty said...

I'll be in NYC in a few weeks and I'm going to try my damnedest to see this.

Monsieur Cinema said...

I thought it was a bit threadbare too, and it definitely lacks the emotional pull other rock musicals (RENT, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, Hair) have, but it was still entertaining and energetic. And the choreography is, indeed, great.

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