Entertainment » Theatre

American Idiot

by Scott D. Taylor
Contributor
Friday Jun 8, 2012
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Gabrielle McClinton (Whatshername) and Van Hughes (Johnny) in "American Idiot"
Gabrielle McClinton (Whatshername) and Van Hughes (Johnny) in "American Idiot"  (Source: Doug Hamilton)

The latest touring Broadway production to come to Seattle’s Paramount Theater is "American Idiot," the 2010 Tony-Award nominated "rock opera" based on the 2004 album of the same name by Green Day.

The show is a coming-of-age story about three boyhood friends (Johnny, Will and Tunny) who seek to find themselves in a post-9/11 world: one finds himself in the military, another as a young father in a turbulent relationship, and the third spends time partying, doing drugs and just living it up.

The one-act musical has a running time of roughly two hours with no intermission. It presents a simple plot that focuses primarily on exploring the feelings of confusion, hope, frustration, conflict and connection between the three protagonists as they leave the security of childhood and the suburbs behind and set off to greet the uncertain future.

"American Idiot" features a very young and talented cast of actors, dancers, singers and musicians. In particular, Van Hughes, who plays "Johnny," Scott J. Campbell, who plays "Tunny," and Jake Epstein, who plays "Will," all give strong performances in their main roles. They are each focused, energetic and engaging.

The design team, which includes Christine Jones, Andrea Lauer, Kevin Adams, Brian Ronan and Darrel Maloney, should also be commended for their ability to bring dynamic set, light, sound and video designs that complement the pulsing nature of the show quite well. The use of video, in particular, was quite spectacular.

The problem with this show, however, is the show itself. As with many Broadway hits, all of the technical aspects of the show (ie. acting, directing, lights, sound, set, etc.) are all top-notch and flawless, but the dramatic material being presented is lackluster. In other words, the spectacle is there, but the drama is weak.

Van Hughes, who plays "Johnny," Scott J. Campbell, who plays "Tunny," and Jake Epstein, who plays "Will," all give strong performances in their main roles. They are each focused, energetic and engaging.

Honestly, I am just not sure why this musical was ever made. Rock opera as a theatrical genre in and of itself has always been a bit "iffy" in my book, and I have never been that big of a Green Day fan either. (So I am just not sure why someone would think it a good idea to turn their music into a stage adaptation). Also, the coming-of-age story is not that original, and ultimately, I found it to be predictable and uninteresting.

And yet, the show garnered a standing ovation on opening night! I am not sure why. But I will say that this is a young person’s musical; the cast is young and the target audience is young as well. I, personally, did not relate to the story, the characters or the music, and in fact, nodded off a couple of times during the show.

Another problem is that the show stays on one level the entire time -- and that level is hyper-energetic! Sometimes it seemed as if the desire to keep the pace going at jet engine speed caused individual performances to be too rushed.

Often, the impact of a dramatic moment would be lost simply because the audience was not given enough time to synthesize it; one might jump, without pause, from a softer, emotional solo piece to a harder, choral piece quite abruptly.

The transitions between pieces were just too rushed, jerky and jarring, which caused the audience not to know when they should or should not applaud between songs. My suggestion: slow it down, vary the pacing and add an intermission!

In the end, "American Idiot" is exactly what it says it is: a rock opera set to the music of Green Day. It is sort of in the same vein as the hit musical, "Spring Awakening," in that it focuses on the lives of young people and uses rock music as a venue to explore their struggles, issues, and complexes. If you are under 25 and like the music of Green Day, you will probably like this show. But as for me, I wanted something more mature.

"American Idiot" runs through June 10 at the Paramount Theatre, 901 Pine Street in Seattle. For info or tickets call 206-467-5510 or visit STGPresents.org.

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