Review by Tulis McCall
(21 Apr 2010)
There is a reason that reviewers go to see a show a few days before it opens – unlike the good old days when they came to opening night and had to produce a review within a few hours. I’m not referring to scheduling conflicts here. I’m referring to the “stick to your ribs” effect. How long does the show stay with you after you leave the theatre? That’s what I’m referring to.
American Idiot didn’t make it to the curb.
And it’s the oddest thing, because #1) the audience was primed for this show. We really wanted it to be a success. You could feel it in the house. #2) I was entertained by this tale of three young men, Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.), Will (Michael Esper), and Tunny (Stark Sands) who are stuck in the wheel-in-a-cage that is their lives. But I’m entertained by people talking about their lives anyway. #3) These three men have stage presence and can tell a story.
American Idiot begins with promise on a startling set by Christine Jones replete with 30 or so TV screens on which are flashed images of what passes for reality. And these kids don’t like what they are seeing. They are filled with angst and frustration and hormones. They are, in a word, normal.
Johnny, Will and Tunny decide to chuck it all and blow town, but before they can Will discovers that his woman is going to have a baby. He stays behind to take care of his new family.
Actually the title of this show might be The Couch on the Corner because Esper never leaves his position on the downstage couch throughout the evening. While Johnny falls in love with Whatshername (Rebecca Naomi Jones), and then falls in love with drugs – Will is on the couch singing along with it all. When Tunny joins the Army and loses his heart to The Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous), Will never budges. Maybe it’s the authors’ way of showing us that the man who stays home is so grounded that he ultimately pulls the others back into his orbit.
Michael Mayer (director of Spring Awakening) conceived the idea for this production after hearing Green Day’s CD American Idiot. He wanted to make an expanded rock opera out of what was already a rock opera. It’s hard to tell what got expanded here, because all we ever find out about these guys is that they are struggling. Yawn. After awhile an audience needs more than that – we need a story to reach out and get us where it matters. The danger with this kind of rock is that it is an art form that depends on its followers to storm the stage. It doesn’t have to reach at all. It just has to be loud enough to override the roar of hormones in full flight.
Part of the problem may also be that the music itself is already dated. American Idiot came out in 2004 when conservative talk radio was having a hoo-rah and Bush was coasting into a second term. The global condition has changed, and the generation of “instant everything” has changed with it. This music has become what it resisted. Hoisted by their own petard, as it were.
Look, there really are no new stories. Aristotle pretty much took care of that. There is love, power struggles, and life/death. So the fact that there is nothing new in this production is no big deal. What is a big deal is that the nothing new is being told in a kind of bland way that is way, way, way loud, mostly unintelligible, and has only flickers of inventiveness.
There are a few dazzling scenes – one where two lovers perform a sort of ballet while tied together with the rubber tubing that addicts use to tie off an artery, and another that features two other lovers in some nifty aerial moves. The set also has one glorious turn as a city in revolve. But these moments’ glow only point out the lack of same elsewhere.
In his last song, Johnny sings about the gal that got away (Reminiscent of What’s Her Name by John Lee Hooker …Whatshername?, I thought I knew her, Whatshername? What happened to her? I don’t now why I’ll never forget Whatshername….
And that was that.
Or so it seemed.
Is this the end
Or the beginning?
All I know is,
She was right.
I am an idiot.
It’s even on my birth certificate.
In so many words.
This is my rage
This is my love
This is my town
This is my city
This is my life
Yep. So it is, which means we are all back pretty much where we started with not a lot to show for it.
And THEN after all the yelling and storming and struggle, the entire cast reappears, right after the curtain call, playing acoustic guitars and singing an anthem that wishes us a happy life, or evening or something. After all the angst and anger, the coda is a :-).
"Thrillingly raucous and gorgeously wrought."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Thanks for the music, Green Day. But, jeez, could you have spared a story? And a couple characters who aren't clichéd stick figures?"
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"By the time it ends, 90 minutes later, you may feel more numbed than stirred."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"A hip veneer on vacant material, a thumping rock party for the oblivious."
Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg
"It's loud, angry, and thrilling."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Music: Ten. Story: Three."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Thrashing, convulsive and frequently unintelligible theatrical concert."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Visually striking, musically adventurous."
Michael Kuchwara for Associated Press
"It might prove a tough sell for audiences not predisposed to the band's music."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter
"In the tradition of "Hair," "Rent" and "Spring Awakening" ...doesn't approach the impact of .. its illustrious predecessors."
Steven Suskin for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...