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BWW Review: New Line Theatre's Stunning, Fuel-Injected AMERICAN IDIOT

I saw the touring production of AMERICAN IDIOT when it played at The Peabody Opera House a while back. I was eager to see it, being a fan of Green Day's music, and this rock opera, in particular. It was a great show, but the one thing that stuck in my mind afterward wasn't the performers, or even the great songs, but instead it was the scenic design. Which brings me to New Line Theatre's intimate production of this extremely tuneful and highly politicized show; a natural for this company to tackle, since they consistently provide fuel-injected presentations of a wide range of material that covers the gamut from neglected newer shows to classics that need some new life pumped into them. It's what they do so extraordinarily well. The disconnect I felt with the touring production vanished in the cozy confines of The Marcelle, and the scenic design wasn't a distraction, instead it became a complement to the anger, frustration, and call to arms that informs this period of terrorism and paranoia in our nation's history. This is a real hit, that genuinely rocks the house! So, get your tickets now.

The book was written by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, and like the band itself, the main characters are three young men trying to make some sort of life for themselves in a world they feel increasingly detached from. They're buddies, having a great time, and getting used to the harsh realities of the modern world. Will has to break up the threesome when his girlfriend, Heather, becomes pregnant, and he goes off to reluctantly raise their child with her. Then the twosome becomes three solo acts when Tunny joins the army, fed up with nihilism and enticed into becoming a "hero". The main focus falls on Johnny, as he struggles to find love and happiness, with drugs provided by St. Jimmy, and sex with someone he can't even name; Whatshername. It's a reflection of those particular times, but it's still relevant as hell.

Evan Fornachon is strong as the hapless and disillusioned Johnny, being easily led down the road to destruction because he's seen his city, and immediate future, forever changed in an instant. Fornachon does wonderful work vocally, and in capturing the reckless enthusiasm of a youth caught up in a world that doesn't make sense anymore. Brendan Ochs delivers as Will, his baseball cap slightly tilted, and his boyish charm dissolving under the pressures of a life he may not have chosen, but for which he is responsible. Frederick Rice fills out the three amigos as the overly eager Tunny, and you feel his pain when his hasty enlistment results in a battlefield injury. Chris Kernan is remarkably sleazy as St. Jimmy, and Sarah Porter naughtily delights as Whatshername, captivating in stockings and zippered ultra-high tops sneakers, while powerfully belting out any number of the band's catchy songs. Larissa White also makes a vivid impression as Heather.

While also adding to a great ensemble, Sicily Mathenia (Extraordinary Girl), Kevin Corpuz (Favorite Son), and Clayton Humburg (Rock & Roll Boyfriend), all make the most of their individual moments. Cameisha Cotton, Jeremy Hyatt, Omega Jones, Sean Michael, Ariel Saul, Tanya Sapp, and Gabe Taylor complete the impressive cast.

Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy dynamically reshape this show in a way that brings it right up in the audience's face. There's no disconnect here; you're always plugged in. It's an complete assault on the senses. The musical direction does more than justice to Tom Kitt's lovely, and challengingly cool arrangements, and the movement and dance seems to grow organically out of the characters and the music itself. But, it doesn't stop there. Rob Lippert's scenic design is in keeping with the rebellious sort of punk ethos established by the original staging, but it does so without drawing attention from the action. Kenneth Zinkl's lighting scheme works hard to illuminate all the bouncing between characters, but accomplishes the task with aplomb. Sarah Porter's costume designs fit the era perfectly, and Kimi Short provides a number of key props.

I can't leave out the band, conducted by Sue Goldford, who also plays piano. I heard someone say it was a loud show, but I disagree. In fact, I think that the vocalists are strong enough to allow the band to kick even harder than they already are. I want to feel the bass and guitars at concert volume. And why not, with D. Mike Bauer and Aaron Doerr (guitars) leading the way, and Andrew Gurney (bass), and the ever reliable Clancy Newell (percussion) laying down the groove. They're all neatly augmented by Twinda Murry (violin) and Jessica Nations (Cello).

Go see New Line Theatre's production of AMERICAN IDIOT while you can! It continues through March 26, 2016.

Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

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From This Author Chris Gibson