BOTTOM LINE: An insane amount of intense energy packed into ninety minutes.
American Idiot is an hour and a half of chaotic, over the top, give-those-kids-some-Adderall-already energy. The night I saw the show, the excitement started prior to the curtain rising. The audience appeared particularly young for a Broadway crowd (I'd guess the average age of my row was fourteen, give or take a year) and they buzzed with the anticipation that Green Day, the band upon whose concept album the show is based, was actually in the audience. It so happens they were, and an incredibly awkward scene unfolded: teenagers and their not so dignified elder counterparts literally rushed to the edges of the balcony and mezzanine and hung over the sides pointing and squealing in juvenile bliss. I hate juvenile bliss. Good news is, American Idiot doesn't indulge the notion too much, instead choosing to wallow in post-adolescent misery, which is much more my cup of tea.
Based on the Green Day album of the same name, American Idiot represents its rock roots well. The music is intense, the choreography a balance between solid execution and grit, and the amount of unrelenting energy that funnels through the show from each cast member is astounding. The never tiring lead, John Gallagher Jr., who is no stranger to rock musicals having been in the original cast of Spring Awakening not too long ago, tackles the material with sincerity and has the perfect voice for it. It's neither true rock, nor true Broadway but something in between. Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange) puts out a performance that teeters on haunting, in a good way.
Another set of complete superstars in the world of American Idiot are lighting designer Kevin Adams and scenic designer Christine Jones. At it's core, American Idiot is about a generation lost in sporadic, unfocused, overstimulated mediocrity and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the show's design. Giant television screens loom high into the air constantly filtering in some type of media, be it scenes live from the show or recognizable news clips from years only recently past. Like the music, choreography and cast, it is a constant bombardment on the senses, but not necessarily an unwelcome one.
The beautifully conceived production does have two major flaws, and I imagine they will be overlooked repeatedly through a very successful run. One is a very thin plot. While there is a general story arc involving an escape from (and uncelebrated return to) suburbia, there is very little in the way of character development. Additionally, what is offered is difficult to process because the sound is so consistently muddy that I would guess less than half the lyrics are comprehensible. It's not the show's volume that's the problem. I love rock musicals, I love loud shows, but the sound is just not clear.
That said, anyone with an affinity for rock musicals, or a tolerance for stories told in a non-traditional manner should find plenty to love in American Idiot.
(Editor's note: Since this show is still in previews, it's likely that kinks will be worked out before the April 20th opening.)
(American Idiot plays at the St. James Theater, 246 West 44th Street. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm 7pm. The show runs about ninety minutes, no intermission. Tickets are $32-$127 and are available at telecharge.com. Win $27 lottery tickets - click here for lottery details.)