American Idiot Stars on Broadway

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The Spectrum

Broadway has become less conventional in recent years. A deviation from the iconic, plain, button-down musicals with quaint showtune lyrics began with Rent, segued with Spring Awakening, and found its latest example in Green Day's American Idiot.

Based on the 2004 album of the same name, American Idiot expands upon the built-in plot of the concept album, entwining the lives of Johnny, Will, and Tunny, three disaffected post-9/11 suburban youths.

As Will (Michael Esper, A Man For All Seasons) is forced to stay behind in Jingletown to play the role of an outcast, misunderstood accidental father, Johnny (John Gallagher Jr., Spring Awakening) and Tunny (Stark Sands, Journey's End) head for the city.

Tunny finds himself even more lost and disillusioned in the skyscraper-dotted metropolis and is sucked into the glorified image of the U.S. Army that his television presents for him. Left to his own devices, Johnny falls down the rabbit hole of heroin and alcohol offered by St. Jimmy (Billie Joe Armstrong).

Caught in a downward spiral, Johnny doesn't wake from his drug-induced contentment until he loses everything he loves. Caught between his efforts to escape his home and his inability to conform to a 9-to-5 life, Johnny must come to terms with reality.

Unlike other band-influenced musicals, American Idiot doesn't try to fit a plot around randomly selected songs like the Elvis-based musical All Shook Up, or chronicle the ups and downs of musicians' lives, a la Jersey Boys. Instead, it follows the plot dynamic of Movin' Out, drawing characters from the lyrics themselves.

However, what makes American Idiot so unique is the dearth of spoken lines. Other than the occasional comment from Johnny, the story is told entirely through music and action. Like an elaborate music video, attention is placed on the lyrics, allowing the plot to be conveyed through them.

It comes as very little surprise that Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) is the directing mastermind behind the production. His signature small yet highly versatile set hosts not only the actors, but the band as well.

Thrown into the mix is a plethora of multimedia, a prominent identifier of our time and a driving force behind the confusion and frustration of the characters. With multiple TVs mounted to the walls of the industrial setting, the props help the audience visualize the world in which the musical takes place.

Gallagher Jr. showcases his vocal abilities through a blend of intensity and energy, keeping himself, as well as the audience, teetering on the edge for the entire show. Meanwhile, Heather (Jeanna de Waal, We Will Rock You), Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones, Passing Strange), and the Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous) come to provide the voice of reason, becoming all three boys' saviors.

For diehard Green Day fans, the new year brings a limited opportunity to see Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of Green Day, perform the role of St. Jimmy. Armstrong is currently in the middle of his 50 scheduled performances, which began on New Year's Day. He will still be appearing Jan. 18-30 and Feb. 10-27, providing ample time for a weekend excursion to New York City to see him perform.

As American Idiot treads on the borders of unconventionality, it is a bold new step for Broadway musicals. Enticing a younger generation to take the seats of the St. James Theater, American Idiot fills a need in the musical market. However, the only question that remains is whether or not American Idiot will exhaust its young fan base and leave 246 W. 44th St. dark once more.

E-mail: arts@ubspectrum.com