'American Idiot': Youth in crisis, set to Green Day's boisterous beat
A review of the touring production "American Idiot," based on the Green Day album of the same name, at Seattle's Paramount Theatre.
Seattle Times theater critic
'American Idiot'Through Sunday, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $25-$85 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
"Silence is the enemy/ Against your urgency/So rally up the demons of your soul," goes the roaring anthem "Know Your Enemy," by the American punk band Green Day.
The urgency, the rallying, the demons — they're all right up front in "American Idiot," the invigorating Broadway broadside that rocks out to the beat of Green Day's hit album of the same title.
With a hot stage band, a tireless tribe of thrash-dancing young performers and an exciting, full-sensory staging by Michael Mayer, the 2010 show blasts the youth-rock musical idiom into the 21st century.
To a receptive crowd (advice: listen to the album before you go), this spectacle can get the adrenaline pumping. It can also be a poignant window into generational aimlessness.
That great car suspended above the Broadway set is missing, but Christine Jones' design still provides a back wall of TV monitors hyperactively spewing pop-culture and political images from the George Bush era. And choreographer Steven Hoggett's pounding, mob-flash dances mesh wonderfully with Tom Kitt's enriched arrangements of the Green Day score.
"American Idiot," like its youth-musical predecessors, follows a group of young misfits through a tumultuous, bittersweet rite of passage. But Johnny (fiercely played, in fine voice, by Van Hughes), and his pals Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell), aren't arty squatters (a la "Rent"), or flower children (a la "Hair"). They're bored, isolated suburban kids drifting into military service, parenthood and drug addiction.
That makes for a thin book by Mayer and Green Day singer-lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong, which frames the boys as symbols of a disenchanted but directionless generation rather than as distinct, compelling individuals.
What's most expressive here? The raw vigor. The furious and tender score, with its protest hard rock (the title tune, "21 Guns," "Give Me Novacaine") and sensitive, insightful ballads ("Wake Me Up When September Ends," "Whatsername"). And the aerial pas de deux of a badly wounded Iraq war vet and a radiant Middle Eastern angel.
In-your-face profanity, sexuality and drug abuse make it unlikely that a high-school edition will spin off any time soon.
But young rock fans will surely get into the music, and may understand the fog of malaise Johnny and friends must work through. "American Idiot" has no answers for their futures, but it raises some good questions.