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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
AMERICAN IDIOT
at St. James Theatre

CRANK THE VOLUME
By BILL STEVENSON

  John Gallagher, Jr. and Tony Vincent/ Ph: Alessandro Mello

The new musical based on the music of the rock group Green Day is the closest thing Broadway has come to a rock concert. American Idiot is loud, heavily amplified and features an onstage band. It does have characters and a slight plot (but almost no dialogue), so it qualifies as a musical. Fortunately, the propulsive music, dynamic staging and sensational cast make American Idiot one of the most exciting shows of the current season.
 
The main characters are aimless, alienated young men growing up in the George W. Bush years. Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.) flees his small town for the big city, where he finds love and falls under the spell of drugs. His buddy Will (Michael Esper) can’t leave town because his girlfriend (Mary Faber) gets pregnant. Tunny (Stark Sands) joins the Army and finds himself in Iraq.
 
The young, sexy cast sings the heck out of Green Day’s songs, which turn out to pack an emotional punch. Most of the music is loud and somewhat abrasive. That makes the quieter moments, like Gallagher’s “When It’s Time,” even more effective. Gallagher brings the same intensity to this role that he did in his Tony-winning turn in Spring Awakening. Sands (Journey’s End) and Esper (A Man for All Seasons) have lovely voices, too. The drug dealer St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent) rocks out his numbers with a menacing edge. The female characters aren’t as fleshed out as the men, but Faber sings like an angel, and both Rebecca Naomi Jones and Christina Sajous have scene-stealing moments.
 
Michael Mayer’s direction is as energizing as the music. One of the highlights is a flying scene in a hospital room that is as unexpected as it is thrilling. Christine Jones’ set is dominated by a huge rear wall with dozens of TV screens. The screens never stop flashing, and during some numbers huge video projections accompany the songs. The grungy set isn’t pretty, but it fits the angry, rage-fueled music. The choreography is by Steven Hoggett (Black Watch); some of it works, some of it feels derivative of Bill T. Jones’ Spring Awakening choreography, and some of it is rather confusing.
 
Since American Idiot is one of the louder shows to ever occupy a Broadway theater, it won’t appeal to everyone. (The retirees from the suburbs who fill many matinees may want to bring earplugs, or perhaps stay home.) On the other hand, the show should lure some young music lovers and Green Day fans to Broadway for the first time. For connoisseurs of rock musicals, American Idiot is a worthy heir to Hair, Tommy, Spring Awakening, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Green Day’s songs feel right at home on Broadway, and the young actors at the St. James Theatre are lending them an emotional resonance they never had before. 

 


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