Review: “Green Day’s American Idiot” Music by Green Day. Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong. Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Directed by Michael Mayer. Choreography by Steven Hoggett. With Van Hughes, Scott J. Campbell, Jake Epstein, Gabrielle McClinton, Nicci Claspell, Leslie McDonel and Joshua Kobak. Now through June 10, 2012 at The Paramount.
I went into Tuesday night’s opening of the touring production of “Green Day’s American Idiot” at The Paramount not knowing much about the musical other than it had music by the punky/grungy band Green Day and featured a plot focusing on dissatisfied youth living in America. Oh, and it won some Tonys and was hailed as fresh and exciting and a “new groundbreaking” musical that brought younger people to Broadway…though I questioned how young were these new audiences. Do twentysomethings really get that excited about Green Day, a band that’s been around since the late ’80′s? I mean, I like Green Day and I bought their early hit albums and WHO doesn’t adore “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, a song that will be played at graduations and funerals for the next 50 years? Back in the day, Green Day was sort of adorable in a faux grunge/punk sort of way…Nirvana for the tweenybopper crowd who weren’t quite ready for the screamy and realistic angst of Kurt Cobain. Green Day was always a relatively pleasant MOR diversion when you didn’t have anything meatier to listen to…the rock equivalent of “CSI” or a John Grisham novel. It ain’t art, and it’s moderately entertaining and it won’t really upset your Grandma.
So, it really didn’t surprise me that “American Idiot” is pretty much what you’d expect from a musical written by Green Day. It really isn’t very good but it’s not bad either…it’s just Green Day. The songs all sort of blur together in a melange of vague rock and roll, and being a rock driven show the lyrics are mostly unintelligible, the bane of most rock based musicals. Musicals tell stories via song and if you can’t really hear or understand the lyrics, it’s pretty difficult to tell any sort of cohesive story or convey a plot or any emotion. It’s just a cacophony of chords and faux emotional moments punctuated by some impressive lighting, sets and projections. Basically, “American Idiot” is like those play center/mobile things you hang on baby’s crib to amuse and distract them while you try and enjoy your beer while watching “Law & Order: SVU”. Shiny pretty things and banal sounds lull most of us into a comforting sense of complacency and the Obligatory Standing Ovation.
Like I said, I didn’t really read anything about the plot of “American Idiot” before seeing it, so here is MY synopsis of what I believe was the plot of the show, as it happened:
Three young buddies live in some loser town/suburb and desperately want to escape the humdrum crap of their video game and tv ordered lives. Our heroes are: Billie Joe Armstrong Clone/Lead Dude; Hunky But Dim Channing Tatum Guy; and, Dull Couch Potato/I’m a Bit Too Old Looking For This Part Guy. Almost immediately, Couch Potato is out of action because he knocked up his girlfriend and since they haven’t apparently heard of birth control/abortion/adoption, he is stuck in Loser Town while Billie Joe and Channing Tatum head off to the Big City in a bus to pursue some vague dreams of something or another. Channing Tatum Guy is oddly seduced by a late night tv commercial featuring a ridiculously hot and sexy Black Dude and it seems like this show is getting interesting with some queer content, but it turns out that Hot Black Dude is a symbol, not a character, and his job is to lure Dumb Channing Tatum Guy into joining the Army and going to Iraq.
Meanwhile, annoying Billie Joe Armstrong Clone is left alone and very, very quickly gets hooked up with The HooChee Mama of his dreams AND Crazy Weird Drug Peddler Dude who’s dressed like an extra from “Rock of Ages” the jukebox 80′s musical. Drug Peddler Dude is pretty clearly based on “The Acid Queen” from “Tommy” but he’s not as charismatic as Tina Turner and his songs aren’t nearly as interesting. Billie Joe and HooChee Mama get hooked on Drugs and Sex and writhe around a lot on futons, while singing their songs. Back in Loser Town, Couch Potato Guy is still on the gawdamned couch smoking weed and fighting with his BabyMama who eventually has enough, and with the aid of an identically dressed female friend, packs up her shit and her bastard child and leaves Couch Potato Guy to mope on the couch. It’s unclear if BabyMama is a lesbian now, or if it’s just a coincidence that she and her Friend both buy their matching outfits at Forever 21.
Over in Iraq, things are getting violent for Channing Tatum Guy who very quickly gets wounded and ends up in an army hospital tended to by sexy female nurses and a Fantasy Muslim Chick who starts flying around on wires before removing her burkha and revealing herself to be a blond/Barbie Doll Jasmine from “Disney’s Aladdin”. Barbie Doll Jasmine and Channing Tatum Guy fly around and sing a song, and it’s pretty cool to watch even if it really doesn’t make much sense.
Sigh. The show is hitting the hour and change mark at this point, and since modern Broadway shows like to keep it short and sweet it’s time to wrap up all the non-existent plotlines. Billie Armstrong Clone dumps HooChee Mama AND kinda gay Drug Peddler/Acid Queen Dude and gets off drugs. He then takes an awful soul crushing office job for about 30 seconds before deciding that “Life is Hard!” and takes the bus back home to Hooterville where I’m imagining he’ll get a job at 7-11 or a call center selling Hover Rounds. Really Fucking Dull “Why Is He In This Show?” Couch Potato Guy is sorta briefly reunited with his Baby and his Baby Mama, though she’s apparently no longer a matchy clothes Lesbian but now hooked up with a Sexy Dude of Color. Now One Legged Army Veteran Channing Tatum Guy returns home with Barbie Doll Jasmine Army Nurse and all of our friends have a tender lite rock fueled reunion on stage, singing about how awful life is for folks living in nasty, corporate, brain dead America…or, something of the sort.
Cue Obligatory Standing Ovation for Every Show at The Paramount, followed by Obligatory Encore Performance With Entire Cast as they ALL whip out guitars and sing the one iconic Green Day song, “Time of Your Life”. Cue tears and laughter and exit out the doors to your nearest bar for a stiff cocktail.
I’m pretty sure that’s the plot of the show, but I could be wrong.
The costumes were really fake or over the top like Drug Peddler/Acid Queen Dude and all the clothes were clean and bright and not the slightest bit grungy or realistic. The set is pretty awesome with lots of Tinker Toy parts that come apart to perform different functions, and the lighting and projections almost overwhelm the show at times. They certainly have more heft than the actual plot or music than the show.
The performances are …ok. Van Hughes certainly sounds like Billie Joe Armstrong though he’s way too muscular and gym built to pass for a real grunger; dude has some BIG shoulders! The character is annoyingly twitchy though, and you’re never really sure WHAT the character wants to be…or, maybe that’s the point of the show? I dunno, but the characters are cardboard cutouts and none of them seem very realistic or that interesting. I didn’t really give a damn about any of these young Idiots…I was too busy looking at the pretty lights and videos.
Who’s this for? 35 to 45 year old super fans of Green Day.