My love of Green Day peaked in middle school, and I probably would have loved “American Idiot” in my angsty, grungy tween and teen years.
It’s really more of a rock concert than a musical. But, I’m not in middle school anymore, so I longed for the usual anchors of a theatrical show—a plot, character development, a moving love story, and engaging dialogue, to name just a few key absences in this “musical.” By the time they reached the song “Give Me Novocaine” half way through, I wished someone would give me a shot of it.
And I had such high hopes. Based on Green Day’s 2004 rock opera album by the same name, which was inspired by rock operas such as the Who’s famous “Tommy,” “American Idiot” features powerful songs—with anti-Bush administration, anti-war and generally counter-cultural messages, as well as plenty of mystery—by the iconic band, and lyrics by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong. At the 2010 Tony Awards, it won Best Musical Show Album and was nominated for Best Musical. On Broadway, where Armstrong starred as the main character, the show earned rave reviews. The book, and direction of this national tour, is by Michael Mayer, a Tony Award winner for “Spring Awakening.” The story follows three young men struggling to find their place in a post-9/11 world.
While I don’t favor the show’s general rock-concert feel, there was some admirable execution. Van Hughes stars as the main character, Johnny, and he originally performed in the Broadway cast, opposite Armstrong. Though I’m sure it’s hard to match Armstrong’s daft personality and rock star aura in that role, Hughes offered a strong performance. So did the rest of the cast. The voices were generally strong and the onstage band was excellent, thanks to supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Tom Kitt (the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer behind “Next to Normal”). Unfortunately, the choreography by Steven Hoggett was unmemorable and repetitive (by the end of the show, I thought, “If I see one more full-body head-banging, I’m going to scream”).
But perhaps the show made its point. After all, I did leave feeling like an idiot.
“American Idiot” plays through February 19 at the Oriental Theatre. For tickets, call 800-775-2000 or visit broadwayinchicago.com.