BWW Review: A Rocking Good Time with AMERICAN IDIOT at Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre
AMERICAN IDIOT, a sung through rock musical based on Green Day's concept album of 2004 exploded onto the stage at Nebraska Wesleyan University's McDonald Theatre on February 20th. This musical ran for a year on Broadway with occasional appearances of Green Day's vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong in the role of drug dealer "St. Jimmy."
Musical arrangements and orchestrations are by Tom Kitt, known for an impressive array of works, including NEXT TO NORMAL, which netted him a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama with Brian Yorkey. Kitt was nominated for a Tony Award for Outstanding Orchestrations for AMERICAN IDIOT and the musical won a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album along with several other award nominations.
The story, written by Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer, is loosely spun from the song lyrics and consequently lacks character development or a strong plot. It focuses on three friends, Johnny, Will, and Tunny and what they choose to do with their lives. Johnny gets into drugs with the help of his alter ego St. Jimmy. Tunny joins the army and finds himself in the midst of a war. Will remains trapped at home with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather.
Directed by Julie Heaton (music) and Jay Scott Chipman (stage), Wesleyan's energetic cast captivates the audience for 90 minutes without an intermission. It starts strong. It ends strong. There are no slack moments in the production. In fact, the audience rarely has a moment where they can applaud as it moves along from scene to scene in rapid fire.
The three lead males, Johnny (James Booker III), Will (Garret Weskamp), and Tunny (Noah Tierney) pull out all the stops as angst ridden young men caught up in the chaos of youth. Their vocal deliveries pack a powerful rock punch. At times they add their guitarist skills in accompanying themselves. These three carry the bulk of the most well-loved of Green Day's songs, including "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Give Me Novacaine," and "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
Women are not in the forefront of this story... in fact, they don't even have names other than Will's pregnant girlfriend, Heather, who is sweetly played by Stephanie Earhart. Earhart's sweet voice and manner serve to dramatically emphasize a shift in her lifestyle later in the story. Johnny's love interest, aptly called "Whatsername" is well played by Maddie Wurth. Her chemistry with Booker III is electric. Wurth has the look and the voice to be a force despite having no identification. The third most prominent woman, Hope Jimenez (Extraordinary Girl) has a lovely voice, although her presence is extraordinarily subdued by the men around her.
Again NWU has tapped into some powerful choreographers in Melissa Rosenberger and Ruben Del Valle, Jr. These two creatives are a huge plus with their innovative and interesting choreography. There are some especially interesting segments such as trios of actors back to back lifting their bodies by exerting force against each other, or the wounded soldiers on gurneys, or Booker III doing a pushup with Wurth on his back, or the really cool scene with the line of people talking on the telephones. Dance captains Emma Kate Brown (also strong vocals) and Rico Santana make sure the cast puts everything into their movements. Santana is one of the best dancers I've seen, so when he's on stage, that is where my eyes are.
Costume designer Rebecca Armstrong incorporates desert camouflage military jackets, pleather, and 80's style grunge to suggest the decade. Wurth's front zipped black jumper is easily slipped on and off as an on-stage costume change. Booker III wears a lip ring.
Scenic Designer Simon Brett with Light and Sound Designer Joshua Brauer use scaffolding and bright lights to create a realistic city industrial feel. A fog machine adds mystery to the Extraordinary Girl scene.
AMERICAN IDIOT is high on energy where it falls short on story. The foul-mouthed youths with hopeless prospects are grim faced and angry. There is little to be happy about. To be honest, some story details I didn't catch until after the performance when I researched the plot. But when I did, I found that there is also much meaning even with little dialogue. You just have to find it.
Although this isn't a musical that I would see a second time, NWU does a fantastic job! And if you don't feel like digging for substance, you can totally enjoy the rousing rock music, the strong cast performances, and some crazy good moves.
Performances FEB 20-22, 27-29 at 7:30 pm and FEB 23 and Mar 1 at 2:00 pm at McDonald Theatre.
Photos courtesy of Lane Hickenbottom