BWW Review: AMERICAN IDIOT Sparks Many Emotions at the Central New York Playhouse
The Central New York Playhouse has once again chosen to take on a musical that most audience members would not expect to see at a community theatre. This time, the show is American Idiot, featuring the music of the punk band Green Day, and I applaud Director Liam Fitzpatrick for taking it on. The risks, the choices, and the hardworking people are what make the little "theatre in the mall" so special. The devotion and dedication is very much evident in this latest production rocking the stage at The Central New York Playhouse.
American Idiot features all the songs from Green Day's album of the same name, along with some songs from Green Day's album 21st Breakdown. Billie Joe Armstrong, the group's lead singer and guitarist, wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book with Michael Mayer. The musical received two Tony Awards and a Best Musical nomination in 2010. The original Broadway cast recording won a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album in 2011.
The story centers around three young men stuck in suburbia and the different choices they make for their lives. Johnny (Mike Gibson) and Tunny (Nicholas MacLane) take off to the city to escape their suburban home and parents. Will (Tyler lanunzi) can't take off to the city with his buddies because he needs to stay to deal with his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Natasia White). Tunny doesn't stay in the city for long though. He chooses to join the military, goes off to fight in war, becomes injured, and falls in love with his nurse, Extraordinary Girl (Morgan Williamson). Johnny stays in the city and becomes addicted to drugs, which bring out a hidden demon, St. Jimmy (Josh Taylor). Johnny's drug addiction and demons cause him to lose his relationship with his love Whatsername (Hannah Weiler). As you might imagine. story covers a wide range of themes and issues such as love, loss, sexual frustration, political outrage, suicide, drugs, violence, etcetera, etcetera.
Like the musical itself, Liam Fitzpatrick and Christopher Lupia's set design is over the top (but in a good way). The Central New York Playhouse typically has tables set up for the audience to sit at, but for this production, there's a catwalk down the center of the theatre and the audience sits in rows on each side. Built into the catwalk was a section that moved (it resembled a treadmill), which worked well for the choreography and the overall production concept. The set also featured numerous video monitors (distributed and designed by James Meech) mounted throughout the stage space and partially above the audience. Displaying old commercials and controversial and memorable news reports (edited by Isaac Betters), they provided context to the world the characters inhabited. The vision and attention to detail that Liam Fitzpatrick has for his design work is once again evident in this production. The set is not one you'd expect to see in a standard community theatre production and it steals the show.
The set is not the only strong element though. Let's discuss the dancing and music. The production features high energy choreography by Sami Hoerner which consisted mostly of moshing, a type of dance that is commonly seen at punk rock live music show. It, along with the music performed by a talented orchestra under the direction of Abel Searor, helped fuel the electric atmosphere. Together, they offer a headbanging good time, but unfortunately, at times the sound design/mixing work by Robert Searle (Sound Designer) and Dusten Blake (Sound Mixer) made it hard to hear and/or understand the lyrics in various musical numbers.
Stephanie Long's costumes captured the punk style, while Liam Fitzpatrick's lighting intensified the characters' emotions. Speaking of characters, I need to mention how well the entire ensemble worked together to create the various "types" of character and emotions on stage. The ensemble's devotion to the show, music, and lyrics is evident in their performances.
The principal actors also make a lasting impression.
Mike Gibson, as Johnny, reveals the torment, frustrations, and struggles that Johnny goes through as he passionately sang the familiar Green Day musical numbers. His guitar solo in "When It's Time" was highly memorable as well as his solo moments in numbers such as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Gibson's vocals were key to his standout performance.
Josh Taylor is appropriately intense, creepy, and crazy as St. Jimmy. His raspy voice captures the demon-like character in such musical numbers as "St. Jimmy," "Know Your Enemy," and "The Death of St. Jimmy." Taylor's confidence, intense glares, and edgy performance ensure he delivers a memorable portrayal of St. Jimmy.
Hannah Weiler, as Whatsername, intensely sings "Letterbomb" and exudes charms in "Last of the American Girls/She's a Rebel."
Nicholas MacLane, as Tunny, performs "Are We the Waiting" passionately and dramatically; he was definitely a good choice for the role. Morgan Williamson's (Extraordinary Girl) solo in "21 Guns" is a standout moment for her as well as for the entire cast.
Tyler Ianunzi, as Will the lazy friend often seen on the couch, delivers strong and clear vocals in many of his solo moments such as "Give Me Novacaine" and "Nobody Likes You." Ianunzi's facial expressions and interactions with Heather (Natasia White) often stole my attention, especially in the number "Too Much Too Soon."
Taking on a show such as American Idiot is risky for a community theatre due to the intense themes and topics, messages and language, and strong use of sex and drugs. The production does not hold back. It is intense and raw. It will shock some and inspire some. Without a doubt, it demonstrates the commitment to the arts that exists at the Central New York Playhouse.
Running time: Approximately one hour and fifty-five minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.
American Idiot runs through August 5, 2017 at the Central New York Playhouse. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions click here.