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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
American Idiot is all the rage
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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American Idiot is all the rage

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

AMERICAN IDIOT
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
Through June 10


American Idiot is the musical written by the American punk-rock band Green Day. Originally composed in 2004 as a rock opera and released as a CD, it was adapted in 2010 for the Broadway stage. Now playing at the Paramount Theatre, American Idiot brings its loud, thunderous message of 21st-century discontentment to Seattle.

The story line is expanded (slightly) from the original concept album. It concerns three friends - Johnny, Will, and Tunny, from suburban Jingletown, U.S.A. - who become fed up with their going-nowhere lives and decide to leave for the city life they have long dreamed of. But on the eve of their departure, Will's girlfriend Heather tells him she's pregnant and he chooses to stay and face his responsibilities while his friends run off. Each man finds a separate and disappointing reality: Will is trapped in a domestic world he can't quite fit into; Tunny becomes entranced by TV ads for the Army and enlists; and Johnny discovers the seedy underbelly of drugs in an impersonal city. Eventually, each man realizes his failures and frustrations, and the three find the only comfort they can - with each other.

This show is completely about rage against & whatever. The anger and frustrations of society and of trying to find one's place in the world becomes clear with each character and is very evident in the music of Green Day. Even the set is cold and impersonal, consisting of at least two dozen television screens, all blaring out videos depicting whatever the characters happen to be raging against. While the stage is mostly bare, the band is subtly distributed across the background, bringing the music directly to the audience without barriers. It's not only highly effective but definitely helps to set the mood.

The casting of the show gathers a highly talented group of young artists who explode onto the stage without apologies. Van Hughes (reprising his Broadway role) is Johnny, the unofficial narrator. He brings the pure essence of punk rage to the stage with every move he makes. From the heavy eyeliner to the way he holds his body pinched with angst, his persona can't help but evoke Iggy Pop (or a male Siouxsie Sioux). And for a man who has maybe 10 minutes (collectively) offstage, his energy amazingly never seems to falter.

Jake Epstein is Will, the man who stays home in Jingletown with his girlfriend. His life (along with that of Heather, played by Leslie McDonel) both parallels and sharply contrasts with those of his friends as he faces the trials of too-young parenthood. Will's internal conflicts (despite his devotion to Heather, he still wants to hang with the guys) are as strongly represented as Heather's outward struggle to become a mother while dealing with a party-happy boyfriend.

Scott J. Campbell is Tunny, the friend who enlists in the Army, goes to war, and loses a limb. He definitely emotes the frustrations and fears of military life and his experience illustrates the heavy consequences, physical and otherwise, of combat. His struggles and rage are palpable as he is at first seduced by and then disenchanted with the armed forces.

One of the great assets of this musical is the staging and dancing arrangements by associate choreographer Lorin Latarro. In both individual and group staging, the angst, rage, and frustration are clearly evident in the rolling movements of the dancers. The number 'Give Me Novacaine,' set in a war zone, has the dancers leaping into the air from explosions of landmines and gunfire. It is extremely effective.

Be warned: American Idiot is definitely not for the traditional Rodgers & Hammerstein theater fan. It's loud, in your face, (dropping the F-bomb frequently), and most of all, unapologetic. Although presented in rock opera form (with little added dialogue), the story is easy to follow, and we the audience not only share in the rage of the characters but are awakened to the many frustrations and injustices, large and small, of 21st-century American life. After seeing this show, you will find it a lot more difficult to be just a passive observer of the social environment around you.

American Idiot opened on Broadway on March 24, 2010, and ran for more than 420 performances. The music is taken from the concept album of the same name, with some 'B-side' songs added and a few from the subsequent Green Day album, 21st Century Breakdown. The finale features the entire cast with guitars, singing 'Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).' Produced by Tom Hulce, the book was written by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong (who performed during the original run) with music orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal). The musical was nominated for two Drama Desk Awards (winning one) and three Tony Awards (winning two) in 2010.

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