BWW Review: AMERICAN IDIOT at Globe Iconic Store

By Jude Buot

Manila, Philippines--Live theater in the Philippines has entered a new dawn. The Globe Iconic Store in the busy Bonifacio High Street is now home to a humongous open-air theatre--complete with video boards--aimed to reach out to new theater audiences in the metro, which telco company Globe calls "accidental theater." For its maiden offering, Globe has partnered with one of the Philippines' multi-awarded theater companies, 9 Works Theatrical ("Grease," "La Cage Aux Folles"), to stage the Philippine premiere of the rock Broadway musical AMERICAN IDIOT.

AMERICAN IDIOT is the Tony Award-winning musical based on American punk rock band Green Day's studio album of the same name. The score includes hits such as "American Idiot," "21 Guns," and "Wake Me Up When September Ends." With a book by Billy Joe Armstrong (lead vocalist of Green Day) and Michael Meyer ("Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Spring Awakening"), this show is presented like entries of a diary highlighting the main character's experiences and life choices. The main character, Johnny (played by former Rivermaya frontman Jason Fernandez), and his rocker friends Will (played by Chicosi lead vocalist Miggy Chavez) and Tunny (played by Nel Gomez) decide to leave their hometown to chase their dreams and make something of themselves. From then on, the plot becomes a three-pronged storyline.

Johnny creates an alter ego named St. Jimmy (played by Wolfgang's Basti Artadi) and spends his time writing songs, hooking up with a girl, and using drugs. Will, however, has to stay in the city because he got his girlfriend pregnant. Eventually, they break up and she replaces him with another rocker. After watching a TV show, Tunny realizes he wants to enlist in the army. He ends up severely wounded that the doctors had to cut his left leg. As expected, towards the end of the show, their paths lead them back to each other, bringing with them the lessons they have picked up from their past experiences.

Director Robbie Guevara is correct in saying that this version of the show is easier to follow. But because this musical is almost sung-through, for us, this is the production's biggest letdown: its inability to put together a sturdy show out of a vaguely written book. This challenge is similar to that of Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Years," which Guevara also helmed a few years ago. Guevara may be good at this, but working with a large cast and in a huge venue proves to be tougher to pull off. One cannot simply mount a very high pyramid with too few or too inexperienced people at the bottom.

The show's first number, "American Idiot," allows the ensemble and the lead actors to move around the stage, making good use of Mio Infante's glorious scaffolding set design. The energy of the cast is infectious. But it is when the actors had to dabble on the less popular and supposedly character-driven songs that they begin to lose their spunk. The lighting also proves to be another challenge for a show like this. Being staged outdoors makes it difficult for the paying audience to just focus on a poignant scene because, even if some parts of the stage are not lit, natural light coming from outside the stage almost requires all the actors on stage to do something and not just pretend they're not part of the scene.

Speaking of the cast, this company is a unique blend of theater newbies and seasoned stage performers. Since this show doesn't have an intermission, it's important to know where to invest your energies in. Fernandez is quite admirable in his theater debut; his experience singing and playing in a rock band is put to good use. He succeeds in sending us chills when he sang the anticipated song number "Wake Me Up When September Ends." In fact, in some verses, his voice closely resembles that of Billy Joe Armstrong. But even if he seems like the right pick for the role of Johnny, he needs more acting and speaking lessons before we can label him as a promising leading man in Philippine theater.

The same is true for Chavez (Will) who, like Fernandez, is a newcomer in the theater. He's confused about the character he's portraying. Among the three stories, Will' s journey would have been the easiest to pull off because the narrative is nothing new to the Filipino audience. But then again, Chavez's inexperience acting on stage takes over his performance.

Gomez (Tunny) completes this trio and portrays the bum-turned-wounded soldier. Gomez, who is quite a theater veteran already, easily stands out in terms of overall performance. He exudes the most commitment to his role, compared to the other lead actors. Unfortunately, the way his character is written and the turn-of-events in his life feel thin and contrived.

Among the female actors, it's Alex Godinez who gives the most notable performance. On the other hand, Yannah Laurel (Whatsername) does not seem to be a perfect fit as Johnny's girl. Laurel, who in all fairness really shows her gifts as a seasoned theater actor, just lacks the authenticity of a rocker-chick head turner. There's absolutely no heat between her character and Fernandez's Johnny. Even when she reappears on stage, just before the show ends, to reunite with Johnny, there's hardly any shrieking from the audience.

The best part of the show, apart from its score, is Artadi's organic portrayal of St. Jimmy. Fernandez, Chavez, and Laurel must learn a thing or two from Artadi's performance, especially how he easily takes the spotlight the moment his character first appears on stage.

Despite its many missteps, it's not fair to label this production of AMERICAN IDIOT as sloppy or mediocre. Yes, it needs a bit more polish and rework, but the spirit of the material is definitely there and is carried out from beginning to end. We also think that, by making the show more accessible to its target audiences, it has indeed captured the interest of hesitant theatergoers. We certainly recommend it to first-time theatergoers and to those that want to relive Green Day's heyday that dominated the airwaves in the '90s and early 2000s.

To have fun while watching a show is great. Sadly, this production of AMERICAN IDIOT is just that kind of fun that gradually fades as soon as the city lights go out. A great theater experience lasts longer.

AMERICAN IDIOT ends its limited engagement on Sunday, July 10, at the Globe Iconic Store at Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater in Taguig City.

For tickets (starting at P2,090), visit TicketWorld.com.ph or Globe.com.ph/American-Idiot.

Photos: Erickson Dela Cruz, Paolo Ruiz



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