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American Idiot
Music by Green Day, Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Musical Arrangements and Orchestrations by Tom Kitt
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
New Line Theatre
March 4, 2016

Cast of American Idiot Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Cast of American Idiot
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

American Idiot was an album first, and then it was a musical. Now, it’s on stage at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center in a big, loud, angry, and extremely thoughtful production from New Line Theatre. With the first-rate singing that New Line is known for, as well as a stellar cast and striking physical production, American Idiot makes a strong impression with its story of displacement and confusion in post-9/11 America, underscored by the music of Green Day.

This is essentially the story of three young men and their quests for meaning and fulfillment amidst the disillusionment of their suburban existence. Johnny (Evan Fornachon), Tunny (Frederick Rice), and Will (Brendan Ochs) make a plan to escape to the city to seek adventure and a better life, but Will’s dream is immediately derailed when his girlfriend Heather (Larissa White) announces she’s pregnant, meaning Will stays home while his friends head off to New York. Once in the city, Johnny and Tunny take different paths. Johnny finds himself torn between the enticement of drugs personified by the charismatic St. Jimmy (Chris Kernan), and love with a girl he meets who is only referred to as Whatsername (Sarah Porter). Tunny catches onto a patriotic dream and joins the military, being sent overseas where he eventually finds that the reality of war doesn’t live up to its promise. Throughout the story, the loud, punk rock beats of Green Day drive the story of the contrasting lives of these three friends.

What’s particularly striking about this production is the staging, although it does have its drawbacks as well. The Marcelle’s black box theatre has been arranged so that the action takes place on a wide plane, with Rob Lippert’s vividly decorated set serving as a backdrop. Staging the action at various levels and in designated areas of the stage helps to distinguish the three main characters’ stories, but it’s also so spread out that it’s easy to miss events that happen on either end of the stage, depending upon where you’re sitting. I would advise sitting in the middle if at all possible. The costumes by Sarah Porter are excellent as well, suiting the characters well and ranging from the everyday clothes of the young protagonists to the more striking styling of characters like St. Jimmy. Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting is also effective in achieving the appropriate mood of the production especially in the more stylized fantasy sequences.  And directors Miller and Dowdy have staged the show well, with striking synchronized movement on songs like “Holiday”, “Before the Lobotomy”, and the more melancholy “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “21 Guns”.

This isn’t a perfect script, but the production makes the most of it. I’m mostly disappointed that this is such a male-centered story in which most of the female characters only seem to serve as figures in the men’s journeys, and except for Heather, they don’t even have real names. Still, the story is memorable and a strong realization of the anger, confusion, and occasional efforts at hope that characterize these characters’ lives in a world of competing images, promises, and propaganda. It’s the dynamic staging, the expertly played music by New Line’s excellent band conducted by Sue Goldford, and the as always stunning singing that give life to this highly emotional, affecting musical.

As usual, New Line has assembled a superb ensemble, and every cast member is in the moment every minute on stage. The three leads are well-cast, with Fornachon’s angry Johnny, Rice’s haunted Tunny and Ochs’s dejected and disenchanted Will serving as ideal representations of the themes portrayed here. All three have great rock voices as well, especially Rice. There’s also strong support from Kernan’s hypnotic St. Jimmy, Porter’s earnest Whatsername, White’s conflicted, strong-voiced Heather, Kevin Corpuz as the personification of military glory, the Favorite Son, and Sicily Mathenia as Tunny’s nurse and fantasy muse, the Extroardinary Girl.

American Idiot is a gritty, high powered, emotionally charged rock opera that presents a compelling picture of the lives of three young men on a journey for fulfillment in difficult times. It’s definitely not for kids, but for adults and older teens, this is a show that provides a lot to think about. It presents a striking auditory and visual tableau of life in early 2000’s America, with a soundtrack by a band that helped define the cultural atmosphere of that era.

Frederick Rice, Brendan Ochs, Evan Fornachon and cast Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Frederick Rice, Brendan Ochs, Evan Fornachon and cast
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting American Idiot at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center until March 26, 2016.

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