Rock bands have been telling stories with their albums for decades. Sometimes the lyrics and songs are strung together in a sequence that brings out the theatricality of rock and roll on a grander scale than just random tracks on a CD. Such is the case with Green Day’s seventh studio album.
This Grammy winning offering by the band was released in September of 2004 and sold over 14 million copies. What you may not know is that it was the hope of the band and its front man Billie Joe Armstrong to eventually turn it into a stage musical, in the tradition of such classics as the "Who’s Tommy" or the "Rocky Horror Picture Show."
"American Idiot" is the album that became the musical. It is the recent past. Centering on three young men who aren’t happy with their comfortable suburban lifestyle, it tells the story of Johnny (Alex Nee), Will (Casey O’Farrell), and Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) through song and energetic onstage theatrics.
One night of buddy beer guzzling works up Johnny and Tunny into a frenzy that will convince them to leave their town and pursue their dreams. Will decides to stay and work things out with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Kennedy Caughell).
Johnny moves to the city and sees an attractive girl Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) and fantasizes about meeting her; after a night of drinking and drugs he does just that. Tunny realizes that the city isn’t for him, and struggles to find meaning in his life by joining the army. Will takes Heather for granted and smokes pot and drinks beer while she cares for their baby.
It isn’t always clear where the show is taking us, but the grandeur of this musical takes over and some truly spectacular lighting, dance numbers and wire work take us into Green Day’s world. There is nothing for the faint of heart here, nor is this a show for children. Drug use, profanity, sex and violence are all represented graphically.
The choreography by Steven Hoggett is quite amazing; keeping pace with this music is fascinating to watch, and there’s even an aerial ballet of sorts "Extraordinary Girl" in which Tunny and his nurse (Jenna Rubaii) sing to each other.
Director Michael Mayer co-wrote the book "American Idiot" with Billy Joe Armstrong and his tenure with this project shows a tight cast that he gets the absolute most out of. The set design by Christine Jones is a multi-level monstrosity with dozens of screens and doorways but absolutely fits the onstage action and moody songs.
Lighting designer Kevin Adams brings this scenery to life appropriately with some colorful effects. The music is truly high energy, featuring songs not only from the album on which it’s based, but also B-sides from the band’s catalog and "21st Century Breakdown," which is the direct follow up to "American Idiot."
The show premiered in 2009 at the Berkeley Repertory Theater and moved to Broadway’s St. James Theater in 2010, closing in 2011 after 422 performances. The show won two Tony Awards in 2010 for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design. A lively colorful cast and show make for a truly high energy performance.