BWW Review: North Hollywood's Cupcake Theater Goes Punk With GREEN DAY'S AMERICAN IDIOT!
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Sound Designers. The article has been updated with their real names.)
Anytime somebody storms out of the audience shaking their head in disgust, you know you're seeing an amazing production. That's exactly what happened when I attended Cupcake Studio's opening weekend of AMERICAN IDIOT last Saturday, and two Republicans walked out after the show made one to many Donald Trump references. If the purpose of art is to provoke, this production certainly did just that.
In case you're not familiar with the show, AMERICAN IDIOT is a jukebox musical written by the lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, himself. The musical turns the band's 2004 George Bush protest album into a cohesive story between three lost youths trying to find themselves in the midst of the Iraq war and turmoil of Bush's America. Unlike other jukebox musicals, this one actually follows the album song-by-song, in order.
The story opens with three youths unhappy with their suburban life. Johnny (played by Chris Marcos) runs off to the city in search of adventure; Tunny (Dorian Keyes) tries to find purpose by enlisting in the Army; and, Will (Thomas Adoue Polk) is forced to stay home in suburbia after he impregnates his girlfriend (Rachel Osting).
Long story short, Johnny becomes a low-life heroin junkie and falls in love with a woman he spies through an apartment window (which I think is creepy as hell, but that's just me); Tunny gets shot and severely injured while deployed to Iraq, and ends up falling in love with his nurse (Kelly Hancock); and, Will, uh, smokes a lot of weed on his couch throughout the show? Occasionally he plays with himself? I'm not really sure what Will's deal is, to be honest.
But the story is really a moot point. AMERICAN IDIOT is all about the high-energy covers of all the Green Day songs you know and love. The songs are packed so tightly together, you can forgive yourself if you pay absolutely no attention to the script. To quote Michael Pettenato, the show's producer and Cupcake Studios' Artistic Director, "Just let everything hit you like an emotional wave. Don't worry about picking up every nuance of the story."
It's good advice. The power of this production lies in the strong musical numbers, not the story set in the early 2000s. But, to make the story a little more timely and relevant, Cupcake's production (directed by the insanely talented Ezra Weisz) has modernized the show for 2017 and replaced the George Bush references with Donald Trump, which made for a very interesting and entertaining experience. It was AMERICAN IDIOT like I have yet to experience it.
How Was It?
SHORT ANSWER: It was AMERICAN IDIOT like I have never seen it done before. Cupcake Studios took an aged (almost period) 2004 protest album and made it fit 2017 like Armstrong had the foresight to give the middle finger directly to Donald Trump all those years ago.
Brilliant staging. Talented triple-threat performers. An amazing band. There was never a dull moment in this high energy, headbanging, production. Go see it! I highly recommend.
LONGER ANSWER: I have seen AMERICAN IDIOT performed several times before, but this production oozed of freshness. I largely credit the very bold and creative choices made by Director Ezra Weisz and his team of designers. The first major departure from the original (pre-Trump era) productions was the inclusion of anti-Donald Trump graffiti on Robert Broadfoot's gritty, yet vibrant, set. The second major departure was the inclusion of more modern TV, radio clips, and pop-culture references during the pre-show news montage that precedes the title song (beautiful sound design by Justin Kozonis & Jennifer Langdon). The rest of the show was sprinkled with goodies such as a Trump puppet (controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin), which ended up making some guy wearing a Metallica shirt walk out of the show.
Cupcake's entire cast was phenomenal. I don't know how they manage to consistently attract such high-caliber talent, but the stage was packed with triple-threats who embodied their bold characters with ease.
Chris Marcos, Dorian Keyes, and Thomas Adoue Polk led the production well. These three talented performers cannot be given enough credit for not falling into the faux-punk character trap that often ensnarls those who are fortunate enough to be cast into these awesome roles. Marcos flawlessly expressed Johnny as an edgy, yet highly vulnerable (and almost innocent) suburban teenager just looking to spice up his life. Keyes very believably played the clean-cut part of Tunny like so many kids I knew in high school, looking to find meaning in their life by signing up for something bigger - the military. Thomas Adoue Polk's (who played the stoner character, Will) had a surprisingly sweet and angelic sounding voice that strangely fit his character quite well.
Andrew Diego (St. Jimmy) was a standout of the night. Diego portrayed Johnny's Mohawk sporting, eye shadow wearing, drug-induced alter ego with a maniacal energy and controlled spasticity that upped the production to a whole new level. Diego might be the very definition of "stage presence".
No talent was lost in the supporting players and ensemblE. Kelly Hancock (who portrayed Tunny's nurse, Extraordinary Girl) stood out to be an exceptional dancer, beautiful singer, and just highly watchable. ThurZday (Whatsername) awed the audience with her delightfully strong voice. Eric Stanton Betts (listed as "Ensemble", but I'll call him "Speedo Dude") did a whole number wearing nothing but a speedo and finished with a successful back handspring (even though he must be at least 6'2"). I felt that deserved special mention.
It was impressive, to say the least, witnessing the talented cast owning the show's exacting harmonies while staying on beat to Mecca Andrews' insanely demanding and energetic choreography for a nearly non-stop, two hour, high-energy ride. The power of this show rests in its pure energy, and the cast certainly delivered.
And speaking of high-energy music, this production's band was outstanding. Musical Director Tom Harrison led Alec de Kervor, Jon Butterworth, and some guy just known as "Frogs" through number after number of remarkably well-balanced Green Day ear candy. A live band is a common place for intimate theatres to cut corners, but not here. These guys were pros and a pleasure to rock out to.
All these elements fell together to create an extraordinary experience that I can strongly recommend without any reservations.
Who Should See It?
AMERICAN IDIOT has wide appeal. If you like high-energy musicals, Green Day, or protest albums, you will absolutely love this show.
It's the type of musical that leaves you signing the songs and wanting to f*** s*** up as you exit the theatre.
How to See It
The Cupcake Theater is located at 11020 W Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601.
(Seating at the Cupcake is first come/first served, so I highly recommend arriving at least 45 minutes before the show's start time to find parking and get good seats. Heed this warning.)
More Pretty Pictures
More official pictures will be added as soon as BroadwayWorld receives them from the production.
In the meantime, enjoy this video of the Original Broadway Cast performing the title song "American Idiot".