BWW Reviews: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Musical Rocks Costa Mesa
While watching the super-charged, though slightly frustrating Tony-nominated alt-rock musical AMERICAN IDIOT—whose national touring company recently spent a brief week at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, CA—one can't help but feel genuinely entertained by the spectacle of it all, yet many (myself among them) may find themselves wondering: well, we know we're watching something awesome... but WTF is actually happening?
It's a tricky proposition when a show asks its audience to do some legwork beforehand. In essence a half-formed yet energetically well-intentioned musical, the stage adaptation of pop-punk band Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT—for all its mesmerizing visuals and defiantly-tinged music—to a certain extent, still requires a few things of its audience in order for them to truly enjoy the show as a musical theater piece.
First, you better have an appreciation for "big picture" metaphorical themes when you walk in, rather than demanding, say, an actual fleshed-out story to carry the show. And, second, you may want to brush up on the band's lyrics, because as passionately belted as these songs were, their comprehension in regards to the so-called plot's forward momentum—particularly the fast-paced punk rock shout-fests in this mostly sung-through musical—will confound even those with perfect hearing.
Lucky for me, I'm a bit more flexible when it comes to the former and a bit more forgiving with the latter. Non-existent storylines—especially in half-assed jukebox musicals—often annoy me. But, WOW me enough with amazing live performances and truly great music, and I'm more likely to excuse its narrative flaws and grow to like a show—and start considering it more as a really well-acted concert instead.
In a way, one has to treat something like that as if it was more like a musical revue rather than a typical book musical. Just last month, this very same theater asked for a similar kind of flexibility from its audience with its presentation of the musically rich—but narratively-weak—MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. Top-notch cast singing top-notch music? Check! Does it have an adequate enough plot to envelope the songs? Meh...maybe. But did I enjoy the show overall, though? Sure!
This is perhaps the most logical explanation as to what transpired for me and many others in the audience seeing AMERICAN IDIOT for the first time. While I certainly didn't think the show merited me walking out altogether (as a noticeable few did during a recent performance), the musical was a genuinely entertaining stage show—but mostly as a visually-enhanced showcase for its rousing musical score and the staggeringly talented cast tasked to perform it.
It was like watching a really cool, acted-out rock concert. And on top of that, having the show's band on-stage dispersed within the set and actors completed the illusion.
However, the musical's jumbled "narrative"—a loud hodge-podge of generalized pseudo-deep-philosophical ideas mixed with a few witty, profanity-laced one-liners, and lots of head-scratching tangents—felt unfocused and tried, perhaps, entirely too hard to appear more psychologically poignant than it actually is. Fortunately, the show did a pretty nifty job of distracting you from this by constantly pumping out an endless barrage of visual stimulants surrounding its truly kick-ass Green Day soundtrack; and so much so that even the most A.D.D.-addled theatergoer couldn't help but sit up and be lulled into submission.
Using songs culled from Green Day's critically-acclaimed concept album of the same name, as well as a few other songs from various Green Day albums that lent an air of pop culture familiarity to the show, AMERICAN IDIOT rushes through the current frustrated states of three wild and crazy buddies: Will (Jake Epstein), Tunny (Scott J. Campbell), and Johnny (a superb Van Hughes, reprising a role he previously played in the Broadway production). Restlessly dealing with the blows of suburban life in "Jingletown, USA," the three devise a plan to seek brighter futures in the big city—hoping that the relocation will somehow improve their seemingly goal-less, meaningless lives.
Energized by beer and rage, they agree to escape away together, armed with bus tickets Johnny had secured from stolen, er, rather, borrowed funds. But before they leave, Will's girlfriend Heather (Leslie McDonel) has some news: she's pregnant! Feeling guilty, Will agrees to stay behind for her while Tunny, Johnny, and the rest of their gang depart for the city.
As expected, urban life presents unfortunate consequences. Unable to cope with life in the big city, Tunny retreats to oversleeping in the pair's shared dwelling. Out of nowhere, though, a flashy TV infomercial convinces him to enlist in the army. There, Tunny faces the harshness of war first-hand and is severely injured in the line of duty.
Now on his own, Johnny becomes delusional and conjures up—a lá Fight Club—an uninhibited imaginary alter ego he calls "St. Jimmy" (the scream-tastic Joshua Kobak), who coaxes Johnny into a non-stop sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll lifestyle. Johnny also becomes intrigued by a beautiful stranger he calls "Whatsername" (the riveting Gabrielle McClinton).