American Idiot: Anything But Ordinary
In 2004, the album American Idiot was born. The Green Day LP released in a post-9/11 era was originally meant to be a concept album of sorts, taking in inspiration from other concept albums, but at the same time, creating a plot within the album. It was from this that American Idiot the Musical came to fruition, with the help of Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer. In 2010, the musical took the stage on Broadway. It has won two Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design of a Musical, and Best Lighting Design for a Musical, as well as grabbing a nomination for Best Musical. It also has a Grammy to its list of awards, winning Best Musical Album in 2011. And on February 28, the award-winning musical made a stop at Eisenhower Auditorium during its national run, continuing on through today, to allow audiences, both young and old, to embrace their inner rocker.
The show started out with an opening montage of various television clips from over the years, and an intro from Fox News Channel. This led into a stunning performance of “American Idiot,” and it is clear from this opening number to see why American Idiot garnered its Tony Awards. The stage backdrop was filled with flat screen televisions of varying sizes, industrial piping, and graffiti, all on a black background. The lighting effects that went along with each song were incredibly colorful, and electrifying, all thanks to the strobe lights that were in sync with the live band on stage. The creative team behind the stage design also had a hand in Spring Awakening‘s design, and there were some similarities, both with the lights and the way the televisions were placed in the background.
The show follows Johnny, also known as the “Jesus of Suburbia,” played by Van Hughes, reprising his role from the Broadway production; Tunny (Scott J. Campbell); and Will (Degrassi’s Jake Epstein) as they get fed up with the current state of society in Jingletown and their lives as a whole. The three characters were supposed to go to the city together, but only Jimmy and Tully go, leaving Will to deal with the news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy. Once in the city, Jimmy creates “St. Jimmy” (Joshua Kobak, who was the understudy for St. Jimmy on Broadway), a rebellious figment of his imagination. Tunny joins the military; a scene that featured a sparkly performance of “Favorite Son.” He also ends up being deployed and going to war.
As the show goes on, Johnny delves deeper into the world of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, meeting “the girl of his dreams,” “Whatshername” (Gabrielle McClinton). The stories of Johnny, Tully, and Will are all juxtaposed within each others scenes, and breathe new life into classics from the American Idiot album with stunning choreography, emotional acting and spectacular visual effects.
All of the songs performed were from American Idiot, with the exception of a few songs from 21st Century Breakdown, an original song (“When It’s Time”), and American Idiot b-sides. Throughout the audience, the sounds of people singing along softly could be heard. Seeing Green Day songs performed like this was spectacular, taking the term “rock opera” to new heights. The energy radiating off of the stage was so powerful, and ignited the crowd. Personally, I couldn’t stop my foot from tapping along to the beat, even though I really wanted to just dance and sing along to every word in the aisle.
However, I noticed that some of the cast members sounded a bit pitchy in comparison to what I had heard on the Original Broadway Cast Recording, but nonetheless, the show was still enjoyable. Jake Epstein was a huge standout in the show. It was also quite interesting to see him perform in such a drastically different musical than the last time I saw him, which was as Melchior in Spring Awakening (on a side note, in both shows he managed to get somebody pregnant. I thought this was a funny coincidence). Another standout was Nicci Claspell, who was “The Extraordinary Girl.” The way she sang and flew through the air (literally!) was anything but ordinary, especially during the song “Extraordinary Girl,” where she and Tully fly over the stage in a dream sequence. Leslie McDonel, who was the understudy for her character Heather on Broadway, was not how I pictured her to be, but I think she did an excellent job portraying her, especially during the scene where she goes from punk to fabulous with her baby. Gabrielle McClinton also did a fantastic job as Whatshername, bringing a bold mix of spunk and punk to the stage.
It’s also worth mentioning that Dan Gleason, a 2010 graduate from Penn State’s Musical Theater program, was in the ensemble, performing on his “home turf.”
Overall, the show was very edgy, and unlike any other Broadway musical out there, since the show does an encore-type song, one that is not found on the soundtrack. Fans of Green Day will enjoy this musical, especially since it portrays their album in a such unique way. This is a show that has to be seen in order to really get the full experience. However, if you have any sensitivities to strobe lights and find sex, drug usage, and swearing offensive, it might be best to stay home. Also, there are several elements that could be triggering to some, such as needle usage and war scenes. This show is full of mature themes, and it also wouldn’t be the best idea to bring a small child (even if they are a Green Day fan) to this show. The show runs through tonight, with student tickets ranging from $38-$44 for Penn State students, and $53-$59 for the general public.