Photo credit : (Camryn Long & Doug Catiller)
Written by Daniella Litvak
“We are the kids of war and peace/From Anaheim to the Middle East”
A lot has been said about the similarities between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. One way they differ though is how they impacted popular music. While the Vietnam War spawned a subgenre of protest songs that are highly regarded to this day, the protest songs commenting on the Iraq War are not numerous or as well remembered. Green Day’s 2004 rock opera American Idiot is the exception to the rule. In addition to becoming a commercial and critical success, American Idiot spawned a Broadway musical adaptation of the album, and now it’s playing at the Chance Theater.
If you are not a Green Day fan – more specifically, if you are not a fan of the American Idiot/21st Century Breakdown era – American Idiot is not the show for you. The show’s story expands upon the American Idiot album and adds a few scenes of dialogue, but the meat and guts of the show – deliberately so – are the songs.
So what’s American Idiot about? It’s a rock opera in the vein of Tommy. The show follows three disaffected young men coming of age in the 2000s: Johnny (Jared Machado), Tunny (Eric Dobson), and Will (Christopher Diem). Johnny and Tunny escape to the city in search of adventure, while Will is left behind in suburbia because his girlfriend, Heather (Angie Chavez), is pregnant. (Speaking of, I liked the reinterpretation of the “Dearly Beloved” section of “Jesus of Suburbia” to be about Heather discovering her pregnancy, and Chavez’s singing during the performance of it was powerful). An odyssey of love, war, rebellion, and addiction follows.
The vocal performances were notably stronger during solos and slower-paced songs such as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Last Night On Earth,” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
During the slower songs, Machado channeled the sound of Green Day’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong.
Machado, Dobson, and Diem’s three-part harmonizing throughout the show were standout moments as well.
During faster-paced songs – “American Idiot,” “Holiday,” “St. Jimmy,” and “Letterbomb,” for instance – the music tended to overwhelm the singing. Individual vocal performances weren’t always consistent. A performer could be a powerhouse during one song but wholly drowned out during another.
The physical performances were much most consistent. American Idiot is a high-energy show from start to finish, and it’s 95 minutes without an intermission. The cast threw themselves into the choreography and performed it well. Machado’s physical performance in the throes of addiction and later when the character goes through withdrawal was especially memorable.
Since I came into the show familiar with the songs and the story, costuming was the element that surprised me the most. Costume designer Bradley Allen Lock did an excellent job of using costumes to reflect character. Having Tunny and his fellow army recruits dressed in plain white undershirts and boxers as they went through basic training during “Are We The Waiting” created a haunting – in a good way – tableau. St. Jimmy’s red jumpsuit with the faux-crystal detailing was one of the most memorable looks I’ve seen in a while.
The set design was a good fit for the show. The digital backdrops used to show news clips were well integrated. The use of American Idiot’s cover art during “Letterbomb” was a nice touch. My favorite effect was the heartbeat monitor imagery during “Extraordinary Girl.”
You can’t call Green Day’s American Idiot an upbeat musical because it is frank about heavy topics like addiction and trauma. However, because it is such an adrenaline rush of a show, you don’t come out of the theater feeling depressed. You want to keep rocking.
GREAT SHOW! OCR Recommended!
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 “Jesus of Suburbia” by Green Day