By Allison Klamkin, Staff Writer
"American Idiot" isn't your typical Broadway musical. With music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong and a book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer, who also serves as the show's director, "American Idiot" brings Green Day's 2004 album of the same name (with a handful of songs from the 2009 album "21st Century Breakdown" thrown in as well) to the Broadway stage.
With a talented cast headlined by Tony Award winner John Gallagher Jr., "American Idiot" unfortunately falls into the trap of the bad jukebox musical. Clocking in at only 90 minutes, the one-act show seemed almost too long.
The songs are woven together with a paper-thin plot involving friends Johnny (Gallagher), Tunny (played by the talented Stark Sands) and Will (Michael Esper) living day-to-day surrounded by television in suburbia. Dissatisfied with their mundane lives, they decide to head for the city. Will stays behind when he learns that his girlfriend Heather (Mary Faber) is pregnant. Johnny falls for Whatshername, a girl in an apartment window (Rebecca Naomi Jones) while Tunny is lured into joining the army by a television ad.
Tunny is deployed to war (and eventually injured), Johnny encounters drug dealer St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent) and Will and Heather split up. Laying in his hospital bed, Tunny fantasizes he's dancing with his nurse, the Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous), as Johnny, tempted by St. Jimmy, a figment of his imagination, threatens Whatshername and himself with a knife, forcing her to leave him as Will sits at home with his television remote.
St. Jimmy has died within Johnny, and he is forced to admit that his life has amounted for nothing. Johnny heads back to suburbia to settle down with a day job, reuniting with Tunny, who has returned from war as an amputee with the Extraordinary Girl, and Will, who has been reunited with his child. Johnny admits that by losing Whatshername, he has lost the love of his life.
Despite a weak book, the show is visually striking. Kevin Adams' lighting design effectively sets the mood of the show, using a large spectrum of styles and colors. Christine Jones' scenic design effectively places the show into a grungy dive of a club with thousands of posters and papers littering the walls and over 20 flat-screen televisions used to effectively shift locations and depict the characters' thoughts. Steven Hoggett's choreography is clean, precise and effective although slightly reminiscent of "Spring Awakening."
Tom Kitt's orchestrations and arrangements give Green Day's music a muddy sound and render the lyrics virtually incomprehensible, and combined with Mayer's weak book, which felt like a careless attempt to string together the songs with a conventional and almost boring plot, and slightly predictable direction makes the 90 minute production feel more like three hours, especially without an intermission.
The cast, however, is immensely talented. Gallagher Jr., who won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for "Spring Awakening," leads the cast, and it's unfortunate that a talented group of actors (most notably Mr. Sands, Ms. Jones and Ms. Sajous) are subjected to sub-par material that comes from a well-known and popular source. The ensemble is strong and focused, with each actor allowed to showcase their talents in individual spotlights, whether it is a small dance trio or a few solo lines in a group number.
If you're a fan of Green Day's latter day work, chances are you'll love "American Idiot." But if you love the traditional book musical, or even the typical jukebox musical, you'll probably be disappointed. The show falls flat on its face and struggles to clearly and effectively tell its story.