BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
The company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

As a young kid in the 90s, I never would have fathomed how different the world be when I was an adult. The cataclysmic events of September 11, 2001 rocked my world and more-or-less kickstarted my entrance into adulthood. The 2004 rock opera concept album American Idiot by Green Day was a staple in my angst-ridden early 20s, as my mind and spirit raged against the disillusionment that Disney had not prepared me for in the slightest. In 2009, the album made it to the stage in a musical adaption helmed by Billie Joe Armstrong (Lyrics and Book), Michael Mayer (Book and Direction), Tom Kitt (Arrangements and Orchestrations), and Steven Hoggett (Choreography). Now, the 2013 Third National Tour of the hit rock opera is bringing Houston audiences the Regional Premiere of the piece, and the result couldn't be any better.

When it comes to the audience that this production appeals to, I'll bet he first to admit that, at 28, I'm in the sweet spot. However, last night's opening night audience in Houston was extremely varied in age, and from the cheers, whoops, and thunderous applause it was clear that the show appealed to almost everyone in the house. It seems unfair to call Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT the RENT for the millennials, but in so many ways it is perfectly apropos. We have distant memories of Clinton's presidency, but we politically cut our teeth on George W. Bush's eight years in office. The Global War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom woke us up from the dreams and ideals crammed down our throats and shaped us into adults we are. Just like the bohemians of RENT, these lost and desperate youths on stage represent the journey, struggle, and growth that my generation has seen. Powerfully, Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer end the production with the cast asking, "Is this end? Or is this the beginning," which brings home the themes of loss, anger, self-discovery, empowerment, and the need to keep pushing forward no matter how awful you present condition in life may seem.

Certainly, during the performance, I instantly felt transported back to 2004. I saw my 18 and 19 year old self brought to life by the entire cast as they rocked out with indefatigable energy and emotion. Michael Mayer's direction and Steven Hoggett's emotive, evocative, and frenetic choreography capture the emotions I personally experienced and even struggled with while I was an undergrad. The personal connection I had to this musical as it played out before my eyes was incredibly surreal and deeply moving, something I never expected this show to pull off. The entire piece, from the opening explosion of sound to the last bittersweet note of "Whatsername," attacked my senses with strobbing lights, flashy video displays and projections, loud (but not too loud) rock music, and non-stop, high-octane action occurring on stage for almost the entirety of the show. Michael Mayer and Steven Hoggett's work emphatically and pristinely recreates my generation's (and truly every generation's) quest for identity, hooking the audience for the entire ninety-minute thrill ride that is AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Dan Tracy (Tunny), Jared Nepute (Johnny) and Casey
O Farrell (Will) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

Unlike it's Broadway production, which featured a cast that was roughly the age I am now, the cast for the current National Tour is pretty much all fresh-faced youngsters just out of college. As a group, they probably have a collective average age of 22, bringing a visual legitimacy and integrity to the production. Starring as Johnny, the Jesus of Suburbia, Jared Nepute creates a character full of charisma and dreams. As the show progresses, we see how the modern world breaks and devastates his passion, soul, and drive. His performances on "Jesus of Suburbia," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "When It's Time" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" are all electrifying. Carson Higgins does an incredible job as the sinister St. Jimmy, who introduces Johnny to heroin and the world or illicit drugs. With the show's strongest vocal skill, he makes numbers like "St. Jimmy," "Last Night on Earth," "Know Your Enemy" and "The Death of St. Jimmy" high-voltage rock moments that are also hauntingly enigmatic. Dan Tracey delivers a gutwrenching performance as Tunny, who turns to the Army to find himself, but in doing so loses his individuality, personhood, friends, and a limb. His performances on "Are We the Waiting," "Before the Lobotomy," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," and "We're Coming Home Again" are emotionally riveting. Casey O'Farrell creates a sympathetic character with Will, who gives up on chasing his dreams of rock band stardom with Johnny and Tunny to stay home with his pregnant girlfriend. He is sensational on numbers like "Give Me Novacaine" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends."

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Olivia Puckett (Whatsername) and the Ladies of
AMERICAN IDIOT.

Additionally, Mariah MacFarlane as Heather (the pregnant girlfriend), Oliva Puckett as Whatsername (Johnny's love interest in the big city), and Taylor Jones as The Extraordinary Girl (Tunny's nurse tuned girlfriend), all bring strong and fascinating life to their characters. Bursting onto the stage with "Dearly Beloved," Mariah MacFarlane instantly won me over, proving she was a force to be reckoned with. Her "Nobody Likes You" at the end of "21 Guns" was wonderfully biting as well. Olivia Puckett rocks "21 Guns," making my eyes moisten, and her "Letterbomb" was legendary. As an audience, despite the focus being on the story of the three young men, these women ensure that we are just as interested in each of their characters regardless of how much or how little they get to say or sing in the musical.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
The company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

Moreover, the entire ensemble sings and dances with mind melting energy throughout the whole production. Alex Boniello, Liam Fennecken, Sean Garner, Antwaun Holley, Andrew Humann, Alison Morooney, Michael Pilato, Turner Rouse, Jr., Josephine Spada, and Chelsea Turbin all deliver exciting performances worthy of mention. For making this iconic music their own with their interpretations of the score, standout moments for the ensemble include Andrew Humann's solo in "Holiday," Michael Pilato as the infomercial turned recruiting officer during "Favorite Son," and Francesa Granell's yeahs at the end of "Too Much Too Soon."

Music Direction by Evan Jay Newman ensures that the sung vocals and instrumental music for AMERICAN IDIOT pulsates through the bodies of the audience, making us actively fight the urge to get out of our seats, jump around, sing, and dance along with the performers. With Evan Jay Newman on Keyboard, David Abrams and Diego Rojas on Guitars, Josh Sebo on Bass, and Ben Marino on Drums, the entire band performs with thrilling precision and skill.

Christina Jones' Scenic Design is stark and versatile, using grays, blacks, and chromes that disappear when needed, but can be easily manipulated by projections and lights to morph before our eyes. Costume Design by Andrea Lauer mostly utilizes the grunge-punk look of the early 2000s. Kevin Adams Light Design is colorful and expressive, mixing Broadway lighting styles with concert lighting. Darrel Maloney's Video/Projection Design is fascinating and expansive, often strengthening the production's barrage on the senses.

Unable to see AMERICAN IDIOT in New York City, I am so happy that the Third National Tour finally brought the show to Houston, TX. This lively, youthful cast owns every moment of this explosive and exhilarating AMERICAN IDIOT, and I can't imagine any other cast performing this rollicking, raucous piece as well as they do. Every human on the stage gives this show everything they can, and the end result is something I'll cherish for years to come.

Unfortunately, AMERICAN IDIOT is only performing in Houston for three days. The show must pack up and move on after the matinee on Sunday, March 23, 2014. You'll want to grab tickets to the two remaining performances, as it truly is something you don't want to miss.

Gexa Energy's Broadway at the Hobby Center and Broadway Across America's presentation of Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT plays the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts' Sarofim Hall, 800 Bagby Street, Houston, 77002 now through March 23, 2014. Performances are Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more information please visit http://houston.broadway.com or call (800) 952-6560.

All photos by Jeremy Daniel. Courtesy of Broadway Across America.

high res photos

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
The company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Dan Tracy (Tunny), Jared Nepute (Johnny) and Casey O'Farrell (Will) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
The company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Olivia Puckett (Whatsername) and Jared Nepute (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Andrew Humann and the company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Olivia Puckett (Whatsername) and the Ladies of AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
The company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
The company of AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Jared Nepute (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Dan Tracy (Tunny) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Mariah MacFarlane (Heather) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Casey O’Farrell (Will) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Blows Houston Away
Jared Nepute (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT.

high res photos

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