I realize that this review is a little late to the party, but I encountered a bit of a perfect storm of work over the few weeks since American Idiot opened at the St. James Theatre in New York. The final flurry of Broadway show openings happened to coincide the the end of the semester here at the Boston Conservatory, and I had quite a few final exams to correct and whatnot. Plus, I got a last-minute assignment to write the liner notes for an upcoming cast-recording release. Watch this space for more news on that front.
In a way, it's a good thing that some time has passed since American Idiot opened, as it has helped me put the show into perspective, particularly with respect to the relative merits of all the new musicals this season. As I've said here previously, it's been a pretty lean season, at least with respect to the actual quality of the new musicals on Broadway. Unfortunately, American Idiot isn't much of an exception, at least in my estimation.
During the out-of-town tryout of American Idiot at the Berkley Repertory Theatre, the advanced word was that there wasn't much of a book to the show. Faced with this feedback, director/co-librettist Michael Mayer and Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong decided to cut back on what little dialog there was. (Um...what?) Apparently, their goal was to focus the show more on the songs. (Um...OK...) The result is an expressionistic rock concert, which is admittedly stunning, both visually and auditorily. I was particularly impressed with Steven Hoggett's idiomatic dance and movement. But what it all amounts to is a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
I must say, I found the score to American Idiot surprisingly tuneful. "Surprising" because I'm really not all that well versed in current popular music. I hadn't been overly familiar with the band Green Day prior to seeing the show, although I'm sure I've heard a few of those songs somewhere in my travels. But I had never heard the full album America Idiot, upon which the show is based. I had been worried that the music might turn me off, as the music to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson did. But overall, I found the score to American Idiot pleasant and energetic.
As for the plot of the show, yeah, not so much. It's not that the story isn't clear; it's that it's not very interesting. There are too few developments in each of the stories. The show centers around three restless teenagers: Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.), Tunny (Stark Sands), and Will (Michael Esper). Across the ninety-five intermission-less minutes of the show, each character only really deals with one plot development. Johnny gets hooked on drugs and alienates Whatshername, the girl he met along the way. Will gets Heather pregnant, but winds up rather inexplicably driving her away. Tunny goes to war, loses a leg, but manages to meet an "Extraordinary Girl." And that's it. So, basically, what we have here is Come Fly Away set to a rock score, although I will say that American Idiot is considerably better than Twyla Tharp's exercise in tedium that's currently running at the Marquis.
The cast is strong, as are their singing voices. I was particularly impressed with the dynamic Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy (Johnny's drug-induced muse, and the reason for the bad pun in the title of this post) and the electric Rebecca Naomi Jones, woefully underused here as Whatshername. But the Tony nominating committee seemed to have a definitive hair across its ass when it came to American Idiot, as not a single cast member garnered a nomination. The show got a nod for Best Musical, but the only other nominations it received were in scenic and lighting design. Despite the show's relatively poor showing with the Tonys, the show may nonetheless prove to be a hit. It has seen fairly steady grosses of about $700,000 a week, with an average ticket climbing from $50 to about $80.
So, hey, Tonys be damned, huh?
GRADE: B (A visual and auditory assault, but ultimately lacking in impact or meaning)