By Kristiane Aateigen
“American Idiot” is a passionate punk rock musical, beautifully adapted from Green Day’s 2004 album with the same name, by director Michael Mayer, and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong. The punk rocker performed the role of St. Jimmy occasionally throughout the original run at the St. James Theatre on Broadway from 2010 through 2011. The show is centered on punk culture, and is heavily influenced by Armstrong’s view of the world. It is peppered with political opinions and his abhorrence towards former president George W. Bush, and the U.S. Military presence in Iraq and the Middle East.
Spectators at the Tilles Center on Sunday, Feb. 16 were introduced to a crowd of young people sick and tired of mass media hysteria. The group of anarchist youths energetically exclaimed their opposition to the mainstream media in the form of one of Green Day’s most popular songs, “American Idiot.” The stage’s backdrop was covered with
flat screen TVs in an urban setting, which displayed visuals saturated with political messages and other graphics during the electrical performance—over an hour and a half long. A drum set, keyboard and several guitarists were subtly placed into the setting.
The three main characters, Johnny (Jared Nepite), Will (Casey O’Farrell) and Tunny (Dan Tracy) are all fed up with their wasteful lives in the suburbs, optimistically leaving for the city, while carrying only their backpacks and guitars in hand. Will finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, thus deciding to stay behind. Their drinking and partying with new friends, along to the song “Holiday” highlights the distance from his friends.
Instead of acting out scenes in a total dramatic fashion, most of the musical is sung, and laden with punk attitude and songs. Music from the titular album is cleverly adapted to fit scenarios, making the musical a spectacular experience.
Nepite and O’Farrell were excellent singers: clear, but a little rough, just like Armstrong. Tracy’s voice tended to be a little high-pitched. Trouble with sound quality was a re-occurring issue, as female voices were clearly drowned out by instruments.
The variety of songs went from slow ballads to head banging punk rock, and if you hadn’t heard any of the songs before, such as “American Idiot,” “21 Guns,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Time of Your Life,” you might have spent the last dedcade under a rock. Green Day has charted well in the past, with many of their singles keeping prime radio time for long periods of time.
The musical highlights how the media lucratively portrays officers as heroes; this is when, and why, Tunny enlists in the Army. At this time, the character St. Jimmy (Carson Higgins), Johnny’s devious alter ego, takes the stage. Higgins’ voice, too, was powerful and vibrant. The character influences Johnny, the character that the audience spent the most time with, into doing heavier drugs, as the story progresses.
Falling in love with Whatsername, played by the agile and talented Olivia Puckett, Johnny continues down a path of self-destruction. Puckett’s character is given an impersonal name to emphasize how much of a daze Johnny is in. The relationship is beautifully performed and wonderfully credible.
“American Idiot” is dreary, yet energetic. The characters go from being enthusiastic about the future, to spiraling into an abyss on their respective paths. A highlight of the show was the joint singing of “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a somber song, and a prime example of how well the adaptation fit.
“American Idiot” has the potential to make you both laugh and cry. The mix of punk rock, love, heartbreak, sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, tenderness and pain can put you through an emotional roller coaster. If you
are waiting for a happy ending, you might be disappointed. The last song was met by a standing ovation and, despite the dark scenario, the characters rebelliously seem hopeful of the future, just as they did at the start.