The first national tour of American Idiot a Broadway musical based on Green Day‘s 2004 album of the same name is currently playing in Dallas, Texas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
I wasn’t sure how well Green Day’s music would translate to musical theater. After attending the opening night performance, I’m calling American Idiot a fine example of musical theater’s continuing evolution.
Inspired by the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy,” Green Day band members, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool, intended for the Grammy award-winning album, American Idiot, to become a theatrical production right from the start.
Even so, I worried that Broadway vocalists would be too polished to suit Green Day’s pop/punk vibe. No problemo! Not only do the vocals work, but the lead actor, Van Hughes, nails Billie Joe Armstrong’s angsty twang. There is not a weak voice in this energetic cast. In addition, Tom Kitt’s arrangements keep Green Day’s sensibilities intact while adapting it to the stage.
For some reason, vocals on the first number, “American Idiot,” were too muddy to distinguish the lyrics clearly. Perhaps an opening night correction was made, however, because the rest of the show was much easier to hear.
I was impressed by how the main characters not only sing but actually play their guitars when it fits the bill. Plus, instead of being tucked into an orchestra pit, the back-up musicians are onstage with the actors, giving the performance a little more of a rock concert feel.
American Idiot relies mostly on Billie Joe Armstrong’s lyrics to tell its story. Yes, there is a plot, but it is conveyed in broad strokes, making the experience more like poetry than a play. This musical is what they call, “sung through,” meaning that, like an opera, there is very little spoken dialogue. Since the music of Green Day provides such a strong musical foundation, this technique works very well.
The tale focuses on three young men coming of age in a Post 9/11 world. The trio is at that critical point in life when they need to move out and make something of themselves – but what? They know how to waste time together, drinking beer and goofing off, but when it comes to making a place for themselves in the world, they are lost souls – confused, disillusioned and unsure of who or what to trust.
The show begins with the main character, Johnny, (Van Hughes) convincing his two best friends to move from Jingletown to the, “big city.” Beyond that, plans for the slacker trio are unclear.
Will (Jake Epstein) stays behind after learning that his girlfriend is pregnant. Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) is quickly seduced into joining the military. In his loneliness and isolation, Johnny starts getting high all day to fill the void. When he finally finds a girlfriend, he is forced to choose between her and drugs.
Steven Hogget’s choreography fits the music perfectly and, at times, is cleverly surprising. No spoilers here, but one of my favorite segments is when Tunny meets a charismatic Army recruiter. American Idiot also includes some of the most ethereal and smoothly performed aerial acts I’ve ever seen. I sure wasn’t expecting that, yet it fits the plot perfectly. Musically, a beautifully orchestrated rendition of the Green Day classic, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was a special highlight. I also loved how the company presented their encore, but as I said before – no spoilers here!
While there are female characters in the show, they are mostly peripheral. The story centers on the choices made by the three childhood friends, and where those choices take them on the road to maturity.
Speaking of maturity, this is not a show for young children. Aside from numerous F-bombs, the themes throughout (such as IV drug use and sexuality) are definitely suited for older audiences. On the other hand, American Idiot is the ideal show for you to bring your favorite teen.
Not only could you earn yourself some cool adult cred, but the subject matter could spark important conversations on the ride home. Who knows, American Idiot, could even be the “gateway drug” which turns your kid on to the enjoyment of musical theater. So get your tickets now and as one Green Day song suggests, “have the time of your life.”
What: American Idiot, a Tony-award winning musical
When: May 8 – 20, 2012
Where: 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Price: Tickets start at $30. Check availability and book online at the AT&T Performing Art Center official website.
Runtime: 95 Minutes with no intermission.
NOTE: While tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.
Photo credits: All photos by Doug Hamilton, provided courtesy of the AT&T Performing Arts Center