Familiar voices sound through the theater in the form of recorded clips from politicians, advertisers and TV shows. The curtain rises to reveal a stark backdrop which is papered in mostly black-and-white posters and interspersed with TV screens in various sizes and styles.
Scruffy young adults are scattered around the stage amid a few pieces of worn-out furniture, and a blonde is suspended by her ankles on chains that extend high above it all. A powerful voice belts out the first line, "Don't want to be an American Idiot!" and the band joins in to rock out with Green Day's famous anthem . . .
American Idiot is wrapping up its Broadway run, and it's going out with a bang as Billie Joe reprises his role as St. Jimmy. While I've been wanting to see the show since it opened, Billie's return (and the news that it's ending soon) was enough incentive for me to finally make the trip. I'll admit that I had high expectations when walking into the St. James, but I'm happy to say that the show exceeded them.
The energy in the audience helped make the show, and it only grew when Billie Joe took the stage. I can see how the flashing lights, loud music and frenetic dancing could be a bit much for some people, but I thought it all came together to symbolize the passionate extremes of young adulthood. By the end of the show, there was a connection to the cast which made the encore performance of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) all the sweeter.
So what is American Idiot actually about? I had specifically avoided any in-depth reviews of the show before seeing it, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. First off, it's a rock opera so it has more music than spoken lines. But that doesn't mean that the show didn't have a well-paced plot with interesting characters.
The story begins and ends in the same small suburban town and revolves around a handful of "wasted youth." In the beginning, three friends--Johnny (Van Hughes), Tunny (David Larsen) and Will (Justin Guarini)--are about to head out and make their way in the big city. Before they leave, Will finds out that his girlfriend (Jeanna deWaal) is pregnant and ends up staying behind. Once in the city, a disillusioned Tunny soon joins the Army and is sent to war.
That leaves Johnny to walk alone in the unfriendly city--until he discovers St. Jimmy (Billie Joe Armstrong) who befriends Johnny and leads him into a wild life, shooting drugs and hooking up with the crush he later calls "Whatsername" (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Caught in his addiction, Johnny chooses drugs over the woman he loves. Meanwhile, Tunny has lost his leg in the war and fallen in love with his nurse (Libby Winters). Will--who was not ready for fatherhood or a serious relationship--has lost his girlfriend and baby.
Eventually, Johnny gives up his addiction through the "Death of St. Jimmy" and sells his guitar for a bus ticket home. Tunny and his nurse (the Extraordinary Girl) head home as well. There they both reunite with Will, who is trying to reconcile himself to his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend in an effort to have his baby back in his life.
Each character has taken a different journey, but they all return to realize that they've grown up and are ready to move into the next phase of their lives. The so-called wasted youth grows up, even as a part of their idealism dies.
Having listened to the CD at least 84,000 times since it first came out had given me some ideas about the meanings behind the songs. Yet seeing Green Day's songs* brought to life on the stage has made the CD all that much more amazing.
If you have a chance to see American Idiot before it closes on the 24th, do it! And if you can't make it to New York, don't worry; the national tour is set to start in the fall, and recent rumors say there may be a movie adaptation as well.**
* Most but not all of the songs are from the American Idiot album.
** Would a movie adaptation do as well? I'm a little leery of that idea, but I'll keep an open mind if the right people are involved.