In 2004,the album American Idiot catapulted Green Day, a band that time had pretty much forgot, back into the mainstream. Its attack on the media, the Bush administration, and the country had everyone’s ears ringing with frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s singing of paranoia and panic in a time when 9/11 had citizens wondering when terrorists would show up again. It spoke to a confused and nervous generation. In addition, it touched upon anger, heartbreak, love, drugs, war, peace, and loss. It also had the traditional form of Green Day humor that they used on a majority of their albums.
But of course, with anything, there were two camps: People who loved it, people who hated it. I was definitely not part of the latter group. While the anti-Bush stance and Green Day going very political turned a lot of people off, I found it to have a whole lot of well-written lyrics, a great rock sound and overall, themes that I could identify with. When I listened to that album for the first time, I was blown away and upon further listening, it cemented Green Day as my favorite band.
The album, upon release, was declared a “rock opera,” and there was discussion of it possibly being turned into a musical. Fast forward six years later, and after doing a run in California, Green Day’s American Idiot: The Musical left the west coast for the east and has planted it’s punkness at the St. James Theater on Broadway in New York City.
[Brief background on this blogger: I’m from New Jersey, so of course when I heard that the musical would be within traveling distance, I set out to find a group to go with to see it. I posted a facebook status doing a open call to anyone interested. My friends Jenn and Josh accepted. I said we would do further discussion of prices, dates and what not when I came to visit. Conveniently for them and for me (based on show location), they reside in New York City.]
This past weekend I headed there to celebrate my birthday, and when I mentioned to Josh that we should go check out ticket prices and dates at the box office, he suddenly mistook that information as “We are going to see it this weekend.” It wasn’t a birthday related “mistake,” no, it was an actual mistake. Best mistake he ever could have made in my case, because, through a series of events, I got to see the musical based on my favorite band’s music on my birthday.
Enough with the exposition. Now onto discussing the musical.
American Idiot is a 95 minute musical with no intermission. It uses very little dialogue or monologues . Obviously it relies more on Green Day’s music to tell the story, really enhancing the “rock opera” arc. The story is about a young man named Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.) who resides in surburbia and hangs with his two best friends Will (Michael Esper) and Tunny (Stark Sands). The three long for something different, trying to break away from television, media, and the like. Johnny and Tunny depart for the New York City, leaving Will behind as he just realized that his girlfriend Heather (Mary Faber) is bearing his child.
Johnny and Tunny board a bus (the most clever use of a scaffolding- being placed on its side) and the trio cut down to duo will cut down even more-as Tunny has been so bombarded by television, a flashy ad makes him decide to enlist in the army. Meanwhile, Johnny makes lovey-dovey eyes at a woman in a nearby apartment window who is only referred to as Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Some time later, we encounter a drug dealer (who looked a lot like a tougher version of Adam Lambert from American Idol) named St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent, who sounds a lot like Billie Joe Armstrong), who provides Johnny with some narcotics. It seems that Jimmy and Johnny are always seen together and due to this, Johnny and Whatsername ending up doing a lot of drugs. The two even have on stage “sex”. Hooray! 😛
[Side note: The musical is currently running at the St. James Theater in NYC. I just mentioned a character in the show named St. Jimmy. St. James/ St. Jimmy. Coincidence?]
While Johnny is up to all this tomfoolery, Will is dealing with his child and wife, and Tunny is at war in Iraq. Now, while I could continue on with the plot line, I will end it here, because if I go on, well there would be really no point of you going to see the show, would there be (if you were planning on it)?
American Idiot: The Musical is not a show for the easily offended. There is drug use, sex, talk of war, break ups, tales about broken homes, people running around and dancing in their underwear at a lot of points, and obviously, lots and lots of swearing. The protagonists don’t lead pretty lives and their outcomes look bleak already when we first meet them.
However, while American Idiot might offend, it also entertains. The Green Day songs add new tweaks here and there (mostly vocals) so that if you are familiar with them, it gives you a little bit of freshness that you won’t find listening to your American Idiot (or 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day’s latest) album. While you get all the music of American Idiot in it’s entirety, there are two original songs, and four songs are from 21st Century Breakdown of which the only song to be released to the public is the show-stopping “21 Guns.”
Major flaw of the show? Not having the actors pause for applause after that song. It is amazing, and I sang along with every song that I knew during the show. I didn’t sing during that one. It’s that good that I just wanted to focus on it. Also, the renditions of “Wake Me Up when September Ends” and “Whatsername” are absolutely beautiful.
Needless to say, all of the music is great, but when you rely on it as much as this show does, it has to be. The actors and actresses all perform their pieces great and if a soundtrack is ever released, I will be a proud purchaser.
Speaking of purchasing, the other major flaw is not about the show itself, but about the ticket prices. For a 95 minute show, I was lucky enough to get three tickets at 52 dollars apiece. However, I was offered 122 dollar tickets which I quickly and without regret declined. I really wanted to see this show, but I would NOT pay 122 dollars for a 95 minute show (For the record, my original seats were great. But we moved down to three empty ones after the show began).
Gripes aside, American Idiot: The Musical is a rocking good time. I loved all the actors and actresses for their acting and singing qualities; each role seemed a perfect fit. The music is obviously what drew me in, but I give props to the writers. The story intertwined with Green Day’s music is perfect. While like I said there is not much story to be had, the music tells a story and it’s not just music being sung for the sake of it. It’s not just Green Day music with a barely there plot. It all works.
So, to conclude, I highly enjoyed American Idiot: the Musical. If I could, would I see it again?
In a hand grenade heartbeat.