Sunday, March 20, 2011

American Idiot @ St. James Theatre

The band Green Day isn’t a new sound to the ears of America but it is a new sound to the ears of Broadway. The rock band has had songs on top 100’s lists since their formation in the late 80’s and their album “American Idiot” has been transformed into a power-house musical that reminds everyone what it’s like to go out into the world and discover yourself.
American Idiot follows the stories of three friends on their separate but similar journeys to adulthood. These best friends, Johnny (played by Van Hughes), Tunny (David Larsen) and Will (Justin Guarini), decide that it is time to flee the safety of Suburbia, go out into the world, and live life the way they think it should be lived – not the way their parents, teachers, or anyone else thinks it should be. As the trio is packing for the trip of their lives, Will’s girlfriend Heather (played by Jeanna De Waal) tells him she’s pregnant, thus deciding for him to stay with her and the baby. After some time it is evident that life in the city is not what the two boys expected and they separate. Tunny joins the army and is severely injured during the war; however, he finds himself falling madly in love with the Extraordinary Girl (played by Libby Winters) who is one of the women in charge of nursing him back to health. Johnny, on the other hand, has now fallen in love with Whatshername (played by Rebecca Naomi Jones) and been taken under-the-wing by St. Jimmy (played by P.J. Griffith), an influential drug dealer. This combination leads Johnny down a path of drug abuse and partying until he loses the girl and is left alone and miserable. When the desire for stability and comfort finally overwhelms them, the three find themselves together again back in their home town just like they always were, but this time as entirely different people.
Some of the most famous rock songs of all time are brought to life by this high energy ensemble lead by Van Hughes (seen on Broadway in 9 to 5 and Hairspray) who plays Johnny, a frustrated youth dealing with drug experimentation and a love lost. Hughes astounding skill theatrically and vocally forces the audience to experience his frustration with a life bound by rules, his freedom when those binds are severed, his loss of control, and his longing for home just as he experiences them. Playing one of Johnny’s two best friends is Justin Guarini (American Idol alumni who was seen earlier this year in Woman on the Verge) as Will, a good natured but ill equipped father and boyfriend. His love for his girlfriend and his desire to provide for her and their new baby is shown clearly through Guarini’s heart-wrenching gazes and pleas toward Heather (Jeanna De Waal) to stay with him.. The second best friend, Tunny, a young army recruit just trying to get the girl, is played by David Larson (seen on Broadway in Billy Elliot). Larson’s spectacular performance allows for the audience to recall the feelings of shyness, confusion and hope around a person they are attracted to. Paired with Van Hughes was understudy P.J. Griffith playing the role of St. Jimmy, a negatively influential figment of Johnny’s imagination.. Anytime Griffith walked onto the stage there was a surge of energy throughout the theatre from the thrill of danger that St. Jimmy’s character offered and the adrenaline rush of fear that comes with that danger. Griffith‘s wild look and electrifying performance were a contributing factor to that energy. Along with the lead actors there were wonderful performances given by the three leading ladies, Rebecca Naomi Jones (seen on Broadway in Passing Strange) who played Johnny’s love Whatshername, Libby Winters (in her Broadway debut) who played the Extraordinary Girl – Tunny’s caring but desirable nurse, and Jeanna de Waal (who was recently seen in London’s production of We Will Rock You) as Heather – Will’s pregnant girlfriend and an ensemble consisting entirely of extremely talented and energetic performers. While the overall energy of the ensemble was good, at certain points the orchestrations of the songs sounded a little too chorus-like for a rock show; however, the entire ensemble brought such a level of excitement to the stage that it was impossible for audience members to leave without feeling like they just had an adrenaline shock.
Though the actual performance of American Idiot was fantastic the book written by Michael Mayers (who also serves as the shows director) and Billie Joe Armstrong (leading man of Green Day) was not as fully realized as it needed to be. The plotline is one the audience knows well of a boy, or in this case three, going out into the world to discover themselves and getting into all sorts of trouble along the way; however, this is not clearly illustrated in the book. With some weak monologues and an abrupt ending, this piece truly needed the help of a professional book writer. Although the book was not up to par, other aspects of the show were. The first of these was the Tony Award winning scenic design by Christine Jones (designs on Broadway include Spring Awaking). The open set with multiple moving pieces such as furniture, scaffolding, and even a stairwell were fantastically designed. Along with all these movable parts were the three floor-to-ceiling walls covered in individually working televisions that allowed for inner thoughts of the characters to be expressed and many scenic elements to be shown. The transitions between the many locals of the show were not a challenge due to the many mobile pieces and the ingenious and Tony Award winning lighting design by Kevin Adams (designs on Broadway include Next to Normal and The 39 Steps). The hundreds of concert-style lights created a rock concert atmosphere for the audience and made it impossible not to notice the brilliant choreography done by Steven Hoggett who stayed true to the term “rock-opera” as shown by the fact that the dance moves in this show are more likely to be found at a concert than on a Broadway stage. The most fantastic moment of the show in terms of choreography was during the final number when the entire cast was onstage and each member was doing a signature dance move from one of the other numbers, unifying the entire show into one final song. Reflecting the choreography in the final number, the production crew came together and created a piece of art that truly represents what a rock-opera should be.
American Idiot is a show any Broadway fan would enjoy and a show any Green Day fan would rock out to. It will be showing on Broadway in the St. James Theatre until its closing performance on April 24th 2011. Until then audiences will continue to be amazed by this talented collection of artists.

Review By: James Russo & Courtney Labossiere

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