Review: American Idiot

Originally reviewed for

I’ve long found punk’s articulate rage distinctly theatrical, and as a director have from time to time tried to find a way to put that rage to actual theatrical use. American Idiot is the first musical on Broadway to attempt to bring punk downstage center, and I’m excited to report that it does so very successfully.

Based on Green Day’s concept album of the same name, American Idiot follows three young working-class friends carving parallel but diverging paths through Dubya-era America. The guys migrate from the suburbs to the city — or a battle zone in Iraq — on the hunt for meaning, or even just release.

Director Michael Mayer, the driving force behind this adaptation, has crafted a show that more than delivers on the excitement that punk promises. The visuals, music and story all come at you with mosh-pit speed and energy, but also with power chord sharpness and clarity.

I wasn’t as moved as I thought I’d be by the arrival of an aesthetic (punk) that means a lot to me, at a place (Broadway) that means just as much. Upon reflection, though, it’s not surprising that the impact of American Idiot is more on the brain and the gut than the heart. Punk was always stridently anti-sentimental. In this show, our guys do go through wrenching situations, but we aren’t dragged into sympathy. Instead, we’re made to look at the fucked-up world that put them (and by extension us) in this position. American Idiot is, in a way, currently Broadway’s headiest, smartest musical.

Oh, and did I mention the boys are, like, way cute? John Gallagher, Jr. is every inch the charismatic rock star as central character Johnny, Stark Sands is ever so hunky (and occasionally shirtless) as Army enlistee Tunny, and Michael Esper seethes proletarian sexiness as “the one who stayed home” Will.  My fave, though, is Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy, who is either Johnny’s drug dealer or a hallucinogenic symbol of his inner demon — or both. Vincent thoroughly embodies punk’s skinny boy slinkiness as he whips himself up and down stairs and across the stage.

This literally demands to be seen, for its fresh ideas, innovatively designed lights (Kevin Adams) and video (Darrel Maloney), and raw heat. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think what it has to show and tell deserves your attention.

For tickets, click here.

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