The music of the rock band Green Day has made the scene on Broadway in what many may consider the best musical of the 2009/2010 season. And credit goes to director Michael Mayer, who has fashioned Green Day’s smash 2004 concept album into an arrestingly fresh stage adaptation. Mayer along with Billie Joe Armstrong, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist share credit for the book of the 90 minute rock opera, whose score also includes songs from the band’s subsequent Grammy winning release, “21st Century Breakdown,” which passionately captures the frustrations of the post September 11 generation.
The thin plot line follows three guys from a fictional suburb called Jingletown, USA as they look for meaning in a media saturated country dominated by television and twitter. Johnny comes to the big city by bus, falls in love with a girl called Whatsername, and makes friends with St. Jimmy a nasty punk rocker and drug dealer, who is actually the symbolic manifestation of Johnny’s darker self. Another young guy Tunny is lured by the seductive Army advertisement that makes the war seem glamorous and winds up losing his leg in an Iraqi hospital. The third guy, Will stays at home doing little, when his girlfriend Heather becomes pregnant.
The characters are little more than angry stereotypes, and although the book fails to develop them beyond the initial conflicts, the dynamic score and the driving lyrics save the day by painting a vivid portrait of the frayed psyches of an aimless segment of America’s young generation. Tom Kitt, who is credited with musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations, does a fantastic job connecting the worlds of rock and Broadway by making the songs accessible without compromising the thrilling intensity. On the negative side, however, the evening is essentially a one level full-cast music video of the CD.
Mayer’s stunning staging gives the evening a spectacular backdrop, which holds the musical together with inventive twists. Figures fly out of the television screens that dominate the set, while couches turn into cars.
The cast throw themselves into the evening with gusto creating stellar performances that give validity to the story with explosive style. John Gallagher Jr. is terrific as the unpredictable Johnny and Rebecca Naomi Jones is heart wrenching as Whatsername turning tough when necessary. As St. Jimmy, Tony Vincent is a luridly attractive evil dude and Stark Sands is a gentle co-dependent Tunny. The entire ensemble is a unifying whole of individual , but the actors give a polished rage to the consuming emotions of a lost generation. The evening may stay at the same feverish pitch, but it is beautifully and powerfully punctuated by director Michael Mayer and choreographer Steven Hoggett.
American Idiot is now playing at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street in NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday. For tickets and more information call 212-239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.com