BWW Reviews: AMERICAN IDIOT Hits the Ahmanson


American Idiot

book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
music by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
directed by Michael Mayer
Ahmanson Theatre
through April 22

Based on a concept album by the punk rock band Green Day, American Idiot, like Rent before it, revolutionizes musicals as it is one of a chosen few to combine genuine rock music with a narrative. It is big, bold and uninhibited in structure and style, and with next to no dialogue whatsoever, is able to convey the rage and joy experienced by its trio of male pals and their women. At the Ahmanson until April 22, the Tony nominated musical may not be everyone's cup of tea, but its roar should be acknowledged and appreciated on its own terms.
Green Day's frenetic score certainly matches the glaring videos and images projected onto multiple screens all over the set that illustrate just how excruciatingly unpleasant life can be.

Commercialism, politics, war, overcrowded city streets, drugs, poverty, bad economy - it is all in your face, lit up like a Christmas tree. I felt like I was watching a year-end video news telecast coupled with MTV, as the pictures made their point repeatedly in telling life's horrorific stories. It's hardcore sadness in varying degrees for the three buddies. Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) joins the army out of boredom, serves and loses a leg in combat. Johnny (Van Hughes) becomes a hard-core heroine addict, and Will (Jake Epstein) stays home, wasting time and money, as his girlfriend (Leslie McDonel) prepares to give birth to their bastard child. She walks out when the kid is born, as does Johnny's newfound love (Gabrielle McClinton) - disgusted with his go nowhere, do nothing malaise. It is Tunny unexpectedly who finds true love with the Extraordinary Girl (Nicci Claspell) who helps to nurse him back to health and a semi-productive livelihood. One great scene is Tunny's medical drug-induced dream, before his leg is cut off, where he and his love float and dance above the hospital bed in grand Cirque du Soleil style in a surreal exaggeration of what is transpiring. Drug-induced behavior, whether voluntary or not, sets the negative tone of the three guys' existence, and the music fits their experiences to the letter.

The cast are all terrific, super-focused and energy-driven to the max. The Tony Award-winning set design by Christine Jones is a steely maze of wonderment. American Idiot is a total, one-of-a-kind rock experience, whose completely contemporary take on the destructive - idiotic - manner of living makes it overwhelmingly universal and hard to ignore.


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