Friday, October 9, 2009

Theatre Review: American Idiot

Those who know me know these three things about music and me: 1. I love musical theatre, especially rock operas 2. American Idiot is my favorite album of the decade (list will be published soon!) and 3. Radiohead's genius cannot be realized without proper headphones and spiritual peace. Well, forget about number 3 for this report. This review is about the new rock opera Green Day's American Idiot playing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre through November 15.

American Idiot was released in 2004 and won the BS Award for Album of the Year an unprecedented two consecutive years. Everyone knows this album by now, but it was an ambitious rock opera about the angst of growing up in Bush's America. From being lied to by the media on TV (American Idiot) to being against an unjust war (Holiday) to losing your innocence in the face of a father's death (Wake Me Up When September Ends), all of the songs were very emotional and powerful.

I craved to see how the whole album could unfold as a story. I wanted to know if the Jesus of Suburbia and St. Jimmy were the same person. Did Whatshername ever marry old Whatshisface? Then it was announced... not only would Green Day be making the album into a rock musical, but it would be directed and co-written by the director and co-writer of my favorite musical of all time, Spring Awakening. The lead actor would be one of the leads from the original cast of Spring Awakening. My musical theatre chubby could be seen from orbiting satellites.

We had front row, center seats in the balcony. Perfect seats for this energetic musical that did not limit itself to the floor. Scaffolding and stairs were used consistently, adding a cool 3 dimensional effect to the show. As the lead song, Amercian Idiot, rocks the theatre we are introduced to the shows three main characters, Will, Tunny and Johnny (the Jesus of Suburbia). The immediately following Jesus of Suburbia set of songs and Holiday give you the idea that these three kids are living in a world that they do not feel they fit in. All the songs are performed by the entire company and are ultra high energy and sets the tone for the show to follow. The three friends want to find their way in this mixed up world. They are going to form a band and move to the city. I'm not going to get into the whole story, but needless to say, it doesn't all go that smoothly for the trio. Will's a baby-daddy, Tunny joins the army and Johnny meets St. Jimmy and goes down a dark road of self discovery.

All of the songs from the album, American Idiot are here in order. Along the way B-sides from American Idiot, 4 songs from 21st Century Breakdown and an unreleased love song that Billie Jo wrote for his wife almost 20 years ago are mixed in. There is so much emotion in the music and the songs are performed very well by the onstage band and the actors. I was a little concerned that not hearing Billie Jo's voice on the songs would distract me, but it didn't at all.

Fun side point, at one point of the show, Michael Mayer goes to his Spring Awakening roots and put a pretty graphic sex scene on stage. (BTW, this show and Spring Awakening aren't shows to bring the kids to. Greg) Whatshername rides Johnny for quite a while and when Johnny needs to get up and sing, he's very up for the scene, ifyouknowwhatimean.

The show is only 90 minutes long and seemed much shorter than that. My main criticism of the show is that I thought they could have done a better job of developing the characters. I think the songs would have been even more powerful. None of the characters are very sympathetic. So you don't have anyone to root for. My hope is that they are still developing the musical to be a two act broadway show and it will be fleshed out futher the next time I see it. The contrary point of view is that, like a good rock album, much is left to the audiences interpretation of the events. I get it, but I want to feel for Jesus of Suburbia more than I do.

Overall, I loved the show. The music was awesome. The set was perfect for the story. The actors were excellent. It was loud, colorful, energetic and full of all the passion and more that I felt listening to the album. I'm giving 4 red heart grenades with a chance to add the 5th when I see it on Broadway. Kill all the fags that don't agree.

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