Music by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer; scenic design, Christine Jones; costume design, Andrea Lauer; lighting design, Kevin Adams; sound design, Brian Ronan; video/projection design, Darrel Maloney; music director, Jared Stein; associate choreographer, Lorin Latarro; associate director, Johanna McKeon; musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations, Tom Kitt; choreographer, Steven Hoggett; director, Michael Mayer
Cast in order of appearance:
Johnny, Van Hughes; Will, Jake Epstein; Tunny, Scott J. Campbell; Heather, Leslie McDonel; Whatsername, Gabrielle McClinton; St. Jimmy, Joshua Kobak; The Extraordinary Girl, Nicci Claspell; Ensemble: Talia Aaron, Krystina Alabado, Gabriel Antonacci, Larkin Bogan, Jennifer Bowles, Matt DeAngelis, Dan Gleason, Kelvin Moon Loh, Vince Oddo, Okieriete Onaodowan
Presented by Broadway In Boston now through January 29, BostonOpera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston. Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets available through Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787 or online at www.BroadwayInBoston.com.
Cross-over punk music group Green Day may not be on this Baby Boomer’s playlist, but its break-out concept album turned Broadway rock opera American Idiot definitely resonates. Like the anti-war and anti-establishment protest music that rallied my generation during the Vietnam War era, American Idiot is this generation’s passionate outcry against post 9/11 politics marked by paranoia, greed, nationalism, hypocrisy, and an ever increasing sociological gap between those in power and everyone else.
American Idiot – through Green Day’s hard-driving music, lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s smart, edgy lyrics, and director Michael Mayer’s evocative and razor-sharp staging – charts the alienation and disillusionment of three apathetic twenty-something friends who decide to go their separate ways in search of meaning and fulfillment. Johnny (Van Hughes) sets off for the bright lights of the big city, backpack and guitar in hand. Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) is seduced by a poster boy recruiter and enlists in the Army. He is immediately deployed to Iraq. Will (Jake Epstein) stays behind to “do the right thing” when he discovers that his girlfriend Heather (Leslie McDonel) is pregnant.
While none of the characters are fleshed out in much detail – Will does little more than watch TV and drink beer – they somehow manage to evoke considerable empathy as their dreams are dashed either at their own hand or the hands of others. The small-town Johnny falls prey to an evangelical pusher named St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak) and a good-time girl he dubs Whatsername (Gabrielle McClinton) because his drug-addled brain has erased almost all memory of her. The good soldier Tunny is seriously wounded in the war, and the self-absorbed Will loses his girlfriend and child to another more attentive – and responsible – lover. Severely battered and deeply bruised, they all nonetheless manage to find the strength to seek redemption and start anew. They shift from self-indulgently blaming the world for their sorrows to realizing that change starts right at home.
Green Day infuses a pulsating optimism and self-aware irony into American Idiot’s angry core. The title song and opening number is a rollicking anthem and call to arms against the media and the way in which it desensitizes us to the very barrage of images it hurls at us 24/7. Yet the very next number, “Jesus of Suburbia,” includes a wry sequence called “I Don’t Care” which is proof positive that the protestors have fallen victim to the very anesthetic they decry.
This intelligent mix of protest and self-scrutiny elevates Green Day’s American Idiot to thoughtful musical drama and lends itself to potent visual staging. “Favorite Son” has a forever smiling Olympic swimmer and Man of the Year morph from posing for magazine covers in his BVDs to donning an Army sergeant’s uniform, marching almost goose-step with his admirers-turned-recruits, leading them happily off to war. “Give Me Novacaine,” an aching tableau of three souls lost in worlds they never envisioned, has Johnny, Tunny and Will singing of their varying levels of pain and need for escape. Johnny becomes so enmeshed in his addictions to heroin and sex that the rubber bands he uses to tie off his veins literally become the ropes that tie him to Whatshername while they simultaneously shoot up and make love. In contrast, Tunny and his fellow soldiers frantically engage in calisthenics that transform from violent push-ups to dodging bullets in the field. Steven Hoggett’s choreography here is stunning, with the members of the male ensemble literally hurling themselves into the air from the ground and spinning as if tossed by exploding mortar shells. Of course, the desperation and danger of Johnny and Tunny’s situations make Will’s couch potato melancholy seem trivial by comparison. Yet his need to numb his disappointments in a longneck is just as real to him as are those of his buddies who left him behind at home.