BWW Reviews: The Livewire Broadway Musical AMERICAN IDIOT Ignites Salt Lake Audiences

Much to my chagrin, I need to openly acknowledge that I'm a few years beyond what would be considered a primary target audience member of "American Idiot." But damn if I didn't have a rollicking good time.

The Broadway Across America national tour rolled into Salt Lake City for a three-performance run, and the cast created a highly entertaining, stirring production of this musical snapshot of a teenage wasteland.

While the pop-tinged punk rock score to this groundbreaking, livewire Broadway musical was written by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and his band mates, the genius of "American Idiot" should in large part be credited to director Michael Mayer for the show's inherent theatricality. The wunderkind is a Tony winner for his direction of "Spring Awakening," which earned eight Tonys from its 11 nomiations. And his widely varying Broadway resume also includes directing "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (the Tony-winning Best Musical in which Sutton Foster received her Tony), "A View from a Bridge" (the Tony-winning Best Play Revival in which Anthony LaPaglia received his Tony), "Side Man" (the Tony-winning Best Play), "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" (in which Kristin Chenoweth received her Tony), "Uncle Vanya" and "'night, Mother."

Not only did Mayer originally direct, but he conceived the show after repeatedly listening to the 2004 Grammy-winning Green Day CD of the same name and developed the narrative of one man's story told through songs.

The sheer energy Jared Nepute brings to the role of Johnny is infectious. The lead character rebels to search out a more personally rewarding life. He initially plans to move to the city with his friends Will (Casey O'Farrell) and Tunny (Dan Tracy), but loses his companions unexpectedly to fatherhood and the Army.

O'Farrell and Tracy are equally compelling in their roles. I would have preferred a bit more clarity to the lead players' vocals, allowing the story to be more vividly related -- at least for my benefit. It appeared as if I was rowing in a sea of Green Day fans, with seemingly every audience member intimately familiar with each lyric to the 21 songs in the 90-minute production. The CD's biggest singles -- "Holiday," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and, of course, "American Idiot" -- generated the strongest response. But "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is the song that steals the show.

Olivia Puckett as Whatsername and Taylor Jones as Extraordinary Girl also create passionate characters. My real problem with this staging is the drug pusher named St. Jimmy. I don't directly fault the actor (Daniel C. Jackson), but I blame clumsy staging for the frequent inability to distinguish Johnny from St. Jimmy.

The Broadway eight-man band has been sliced in half for this tour, and some of the richness of the score is sacrificed. Perhaps this contributes to the strength of the final song "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" -- with its repeated lyrics of "It's something unpredictable/ But in the end is right/ I hope you had the time of your life" -- played acoustically by the full cast. It was a surprise (not included in the playbill song list) and a stunning curtain call moment. (Interestingly, Armstrong didn't intend the song to be romantic, and he was shocked to realize it has become a hit at prom dances.)

"American Idiot" vibrantly expresses the dizzying roller coaster of young adulthood. With youth wasted on the young, American youngsters too late comprehend they are too confused to know which road to take and too inexperienced to recognize that many of the roads won't be nearly as welcoming later.

Don't lose your individuality. Don't become an American Idiot is the warning call.

The tour staging resonated with the enthusiastic Kingsbury Hall audience. And this production also screamed out it was a criminal offense that the 2010 Tony Best Musical Award went to the tepid, undistinguished "Memphis."

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Blair Howell Blair Howell's career is in the professional publishing arena (for more years than he cares to remember), with a longstanding interest in theater. He found it to be great fun to live in New Canaan, Connecticut, with easy access to the Great White Way. But now, Blair lives in Salt Lake City (a long, not interesting story). The much-lamented move has allowed him to be more active in regional theater. He now covers theater and the arts for the Deseret News, Utah's oldest, continuously-published metro daily newspaper, and has written for various theater-related national magazines and websites.

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