Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billy Joe Armstrong
Book by Billy Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Directed by Michael Mayer
St. James Theatre
American Idiot on Broadway Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

There are two reviews to be written about American Idiot, they are diametically opposed in perspective and conclusion and they are both valid. Which one speaks to you will depend entirely upon your sensibility.


The first review asseses American Idiot as a musical. And it isn't one, save in the broadest definition of an evening built upon song. In that sense, a revue isn't really a musical either, though certainly in putting one together, one can (and usually should) provide a structure grounded by an underlying thematic subtext. No, American Idiot is purely and at heart an extended rock music video for the stage, that illustrates not merely a song but an entire album (music by the group Green Day, music by guitarist-lead vocalist Billy Joe Armstrong), giving impressionistic image more weight than linear narrative.


The slenderest dramatic continuity (book by Armstrong and director Michael Mayer) has been superimposed upon the songs, which, despite their chart popularity, are mundane riffs on the disenfranchisement of American youth. (There is of course a visceral infectiousness to the music and some of the lyrics, but genuine harmonic, melodic or even idiomatic originality? no; at least not if you're old enough to have lived through counter-culture rock manifestos of generations past.)


The narrative, such as it is, concerns three city bred slackers who want out of their going-nowhere existences (without once the question of "Whose fault is that?" being raised). Will (Michael Esper) stays home to unwittingly father a kid and be such a bust as a parent that his girl (Mary Faber) leaves him. Tunny (Stark Sands) goes off to fight Al Quieda and loses a leg in battle for his trouble. Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.) ventures into the city and meets both the woman of his dreams (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and the most charismatic drug dealer in the hood (Tony Vincent). Johnny misjudges the placement of his loyalty and returns home more bereft than when he left, having undergone a Cold Turkey detox that underscores what he himself regards as his fundamental uselessness. (I know this all sounds like spoiler after spoiler, but I promise you, suspense is at a BARE minimum, and nearly every turn is self-evident right from the git. Additionally, every song is written at rock opera pace, which is musically very active but narratively glacial [each song tends to hump a single declarative sentiment], there don't seem to be even twenty lines of interpolated spoken text, and none of the triumvirate of story threads goes any deeper than the time it takes to thumbnail it.)


If knowing this makes you suspect a show where you'll be bored, fidgety, angry or even only impatient, that's almost certainly what to expect and you're well advised to save your money.


The second review of American Idiot has to do with the piece accepted fully on its own terms, as an extended music video based on a concept album, written by a current pop icon and recorded by a hugely popular band. Green Day and the album have (obviously) many enthusiastic fansŅand rock as a  musical/cultural form/phenomenon whose impact simply must not be underestimated is fascinating to connoisseurs, "historians" and even the casual observer/listener open to the vibe and the vocabulary; and for any of you among them, American Idiot may well be an important and exhilarating evening, that even more firmly establishes a stronghold for rock in a mainstream theatrical setting. Michael Meyers' multi-media staging (utilizing something over 30 TV screens strewn across an abstract cityscape on whose rear wall exterior staircases climb up several storeys) is well attuned to illustrating the visceral, cathartic throb of a universe that is more about sensation than sense, and the cast are committed body and soul, to put it mildly. Nothing is expressed by halves, and no expectation or high standard that one drawn to such entertainment may hold is likely to go unfulfilled.


Definitive appraisals are impossible here, because so much depends upon mindset and tolerance. All a critic can doŅif he includes responsible consumer advocacy among his obligationsŅis report that for the kind of thing it is, American Idiot is executed with all the bells, whistles and panache such an enterprise requires. You have to decide if you'd be much into the kind of thing it is.

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