Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ falls flat
BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org April 17, 2013 12:58PM
Alex Nee as Johnny (left) and Trent Saunders as St. Jimmy in “American Idiot” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. | Photo by John Daughtry
When: Through April 21
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.broadwayinchicago.com
Run time: 90 minutes
Updated: May 19, 2013 7:37AM
‘American Idiot,” the touring Broadway megamusical built around pop-punk trio Green Day’s 2004 concept album, is one lame episode of “Glee.”
A blaring show-choir romp through countless rock stereotypes and clueless affectations — punk kids do not dance like this — the show, now at the Cadillac Palace for a weeklong return engagement, is a musical in name only. The songs are stitched together by the thinnest of plots, and what narrative exists is difficult to discern. But there are 30 video screens and seizure-inducing strobes! This is a very Broadway idea of rock ’n’ roll. It’s “Rent” on steroids.
Actually, it’s “The Young Ones” without a shred of the humor. More from my Tuesday night notebook: It’s as if Gregg Araki adapted the Zack Attack episode of “Saved by the Bell.” It’s “Tommy” as written by shareholders. It’s that first, heart-sinking time you watched the Nike ad featuring the Beatles’ “Revolution.”
Written by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”), the stage version of “American Idiot” is a frenzy of action, dance, quick-cut video and lots and lots of intense facial expression. There’s also simulated sex, and the main character shoots his girlfriend full of heroin on stage. ’Cause that’s what goes with rock ’n’ roll, right?
Johnny, a k a the Jesus of Suburbia, departs his namesake for The City, splitting from his two besties — one of whom goes on to knock up his girlfriend back home, the other enlists in the military and loses a leg. In the dreaded City, Johnny encounters St. Jimmy, a snarling, mohawked, one-dimensional Acid Queen cliche, a kind of alter-ego-slash-drug pusher. Johnny inevitably spirals downhill and, in the dreary end, crawls home utterly defeated. Any other narrative arranged through the lyrics is lost to vocal microphones that aren’t up to the roar of the band.
Into that bleak tale are crammed most of the tracks from the “American Idiot” album, plus a few extra for, well, measure. As with every jukebox musical, sometimes the songs work in the new narrative (“Favorite Son,” the “Whatshername” finale), often they don’t (“21 Guns” and the powerful protest of “Know Your Enemy” both go flaccid in the context of personal drama here).
At almost every turn, the female performers whoop the men (except the vastly underutilized Casey O’Farrell as Johnny’s pal Will) — which is saying something, given how marginalized the women characters are amid all this dude-centric angst. Jenna Rubaii would be arresting singing “Extraordinary Girl” even if she wasn’t doing it while flying in a harness, and Alyssa DiPalma’s “Letterbomb” is a taut, slo-mo explosion.
The show possesses a new sliver of irony now — Armstrong is just now back on the road with Green Day after facing down his own St. Jimmy in real-life rehab — but little else to recommend its over-serious sounds and feeble fury.