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BWW Review: Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT Pulsates at Playhouse

Now that Peter has returned to Neverland and the good citizens of Tuna have returned their yard ornaments to their garages and attics, Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT has seen to it that all the kiddies need to be tucked away in bed: Playhouse's electrifying production of the punk rock musical odyssey, with Book and Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong and Book by Michael Mayer, has traded in pirates for pushers; and the result must have Rodgers and Hammerstein scratching their heads in musical heaven and asking the question, "What in the name of Bali Hai is going on here?" However, if like me, you're primed for some stimulating adult entertainment, you'll find more than your toes tapping in this "in your face" assault on the idiocy that is America -- that is we the audience.

The three principal characters here -- Johnny, Tunny, and Will, all dissatisfied with their stifling life in suburbia (as thrillingly put forth in "Jesus of Suburbia" -- are desirous of new directions in their lives. They're like Dorothy's three companions on adrenaline, each searching to find something missing in his life. Will (poignantly rendered by Sam Warner) is ready to join his fellow rockers when, unexpectedly, his girlfriend finds herself pregnant; no sooner will his bags be packed, than he will be forced to accept his lot. Shoulders sagging, he will remain in his home town. The determined Johnny (Nathan McHenry, who has the voice and "edge" to assert himself as the protagonist), like a punk rock version of Rice and Webber's EVITA and her Buenos Aires, is "ripe picking" for the Big City, while Tunny (brawny Christopher Miller), glued to his bed sheets and brain-washed by the repetitive "We Are Proud"-military messages he keeps hearing while channel surfing, is drawn to a life of active service. Not one of these three will find the Holy Grail he is seeking: Will's wife will leave him for a life of bag-toting prosperity; Johnny (edged on by his id-like "St. Jimmy" -- Dane Van Brocklin, tattooed and shirtless and seemingly joined at the gyrating hips of our hero -- and Lorelei-d by lovely Alexis Grace's "Whatsername") remains stuck in the mud of his making; and Tunny finds himself sidelined by a debilitating injury. Like Dorothy's companions, as much as they deplore their "Kansas," these three will eventually find that "there's no place like home" -- and will embrace their inner idiocy.

This musical leaps out at you like the great grandchild of HAIR, and if your ear has been attuned to the "Champagne music" of Lawrence Welk, then you'd best explore other venues for your auditory pleasure. This dynamo of a musical electrifies from the beginning, and fans of Green Day (whose concept album inspired the play) seemed out in full force on opening night. If nothing else, they lopped decades off the average age of a theatre attendant. In fact, it was almost shocking to see a cast as young and uninhibited as this (and yes, Virginia, Costume Designer Caleb Blackwell must have had a well-deserved break during the scenes that exhibited partial nudity),

While concentrating on the lyrics to the songs (and there are a few ballad-like moments that punctuate the otherwise driving numbers), I kept thinking -- wouldn't it be interesting to take the words here, incorporate them into a more or less straightforward script, and create a music-less play? Even without the Green Day music, I think it would work. However, who needs cohesion when there's so much exhilaration in the music?

Director/Choreographer Gary John La Rosa has staged with such nonstop energy and ingenuity that I wondered whether Playhouse had enough earthquake insurance to care for the fissures in its foundation. The inventive set is by Mark Guirguis; and the rocking on-stage band has been directed by Thomas Bergstig. The rafters at Playhouse will be shaking through February 14.


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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)