BWW Review: GREEN DAY'S AMERICAN IDIOT at Wilmington Drama League
AMERICAN IDIOT, the stage adaptation of punk rock band Green Day's album of the same name, holds a special place in many hearts for different reasons, and I feel it safe to say AMERICAN IDIOT is especially close to certain members at Wilmington Drama League given the connection between the theater and the show's original Johnny, former Drama League youth performer now Tony award winner, John Gallagher, Jr. So it comes as no surprise that John's parents took in a preview show prior to Drama League's June 9th opening which I attended. I have it on good authority (she told me herself) that Mrs. Gallagher is a Green Day fan.
After a run at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009, the show moved to Broadway with previews beginning on March 24, 2010. The show officially opened on April 20, 2010 and closed after 422 performances. While Green Day did not appear in the production, Billie Joe Armstrong performed the role of "St. Jimmy" occasionally throughout the run.
The album, released in the US in September 2004, was the seventh studio album for Green Day. The concept album, with a punk rock opera alter-ego, follows the story of three male adolescent making their through life and all of its disillusionment - George W. Bush, the Iraq War, right-winged media, corporate America. The stage musical, as originally presented in 2009, was an extension of that message. Video screens hung on graffiti walls displaying moments in time news reports and propaganda served as a backdrop for a multilevel, thick, grungy metal set. Drama Leagues 's set (Tony DelNegro) reproduces the Broadway set nicely. The lighting design (Brian Kavanagh) and sound design (Jen Scorziello) work well with the production's overall perspective.
However, AMERICAN IDIOT evokes memories from a particular era and all that goes with it. It doesn't need updating. The teenage condition - finding self, experimentation, escapism, apathy - is timeless. Using present day images, including those of President Obama, lessens the intended caged anxiety. With regard to the song Wake Me Up When September Ends, Billie Joe Armstrong stated, "I initially wrote the song about the death of my dad, but when we played it, you could see it in people's faces. It meant something more: it was everyone's loss; it was the loss of the '90s American innocence. 9/11 changed the world."
I am a Green Day fan and enjoy listening to this album very much. The musical AMERICAN IDIOT is a different animal. While the music is there, the storyline is not. That's not to say there isn't a message. Would it play better if there was no dialog at all? Could it be strengthened by building upon the plots of minor characters or focusing strictly on the lead? Is the form a modernly morphed tone poem? My enjoyment of the musical version comes from its movement, varying tones, and true grit, not its storyline.
The show itself is flawed; thus, making an improved product quite difficult. Drama League's production suffers the inherited fate with its own hits and misses. Ben Long as Tunny and Ty Pride as the Extraordinary Girl deliver complete experiences. Mr. Long capably displays his ever-changing life cycle. His voice isn't too shabby either. Ms. Pride makes you watch and listen with her galvanized body movements and burning vocals. Her execution of an alternative flying sequence is lovely. The male ensemble members providing her "walking cloud" are sturdy supports.
Brandon Zebley as Johnny stumbles in overcoming his wavy blonde hair and boyish looks to fully envelop the despair that defines a young man lost to the hardened world and newly found addiction. His singing of When It's Time to his love interest lacks conviction, passion, intimacy. The show contains songs demanding intense intimacy, yet deliveries are merely sweet thoughts. Acting and singing angrily without focus, purpose or levels is basically the same as shouting Shakespeare using round tones and a bad accent. Yes, we hear you but do you know what you're saying? Other lead performers confuse sluggish, heavy-footed movements for emotionally weighted posturing. There are intermittent moments of overacting and exhibitions of less than well-crafted skills, none of which completely undermine the production as a whole.
William Bryant as Will earnestly works his physicality to clearly demonstrate the world crashing in. Darby McLaughlin as Whatsername gives a straightforward performance to establish her empowerment and practice of love as a motivator to counterbalance Johnny's rage. The mostly re-created Broadway choreography (Dominic Santos) is executed with mixed results. (It is difficult for non-dancers to clearly express repressed frustration without looking insincere.) Stage Director, Chris Turner, and the entire cast deserve acknowledgement simply for tackling the 90 minute, no intermission, exploit.
AMERICAN IDIOT is, after all, an album turned musical; its heart is in the music. The six piece band under Music Director, Caty Butler, provides a more than competent tonal landscape with clear interpretations of Green Day songs. They keep the pulse going, the energy flowing and the audience of many ages singing along.
Wilmington Drama League
10 W. Lea Boulevard
Wilmington, DE 19802
Runs June 9 through June 18