a kate west review
music by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
book by Billie Joe Armstrong & Michael Mayer
directed by Michael Mayer
musical arrangement by Tom Kitt
choreographed by Steven Hoggett
at the Ahmanson Theatre/Center Theatre Group
135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90012
running March 13 - April 22, 2012
contact 213-628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org
The popular Bay Area punk band Green Day won the best rock album (Grammy) in 2005 with their smash hit "American Idiot", released the year before. The structure of this innovative album tells a story of an anti-hero, "Jesus of Suburbia", who just wants to make his mark in the world and find out if there is anything worthwhile beyond television and beer. Michael Mayer (Director of the excitingly youthful "Spring Awakenings") strongly felt this would make a great musical and a rockin' collaboration began. Premiering in Berkeley and then later on Broadway, "American Idiot" combined flashy media with "Rent"-like scaffolding, creating a minimalist stage focused mainly on strong music. And now it's finally made it to Hollywood. Yeah for us.
Johnny (Van Hughes) and his pals Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) want more out of life than what they see around them. So they set out to explore possibilities and each of them ends up with a very different life than expected. Will becomes entrenched in Jingletown suburbia, Tunny joins the military and our protagonist Johnny ends up with sex, drugs and rock and roll. And that's pretty much it. It's a simple story, bare bones really, but the music tells you all you need to know about the quintessential American dream quest. The most well-known songs, "American Idiot", "Jesus of Suburbia" and "21 Guns" express the most dramatically powerful pull of youth and angst. When we are young, we are hell bent on knowing what it all means, sometimes to our detriment. The singers are quite strong for the most part, though it was sometimes hard to hear the women (Leslie McDonel and Gabrielle McClinton) in this production (mike check, anyone?)
Choreographer Steven Hoggett matches the in-your-face lyrics with strikingly angry moves, showing the frustration of being trapped in your own worst self. The production follows in the footsteps of louder, less traditional musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Rent" by giving us a rock concert version of underlying sentimental melodies. There are nice ballads too though, don't worry, such as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (no explanation necessary) and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" which enhances the diary entries Johnny provides us. "Extraordinary Girl" even includes some acrobatic moves with Scott J. Campbell and Nicci Claspell.
The difference between this and the afore-mentioned Broadway hits is that this show comes from an existing album, so lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and Director Michael Mayer had to rearrange different orchestrations (with Tom Kitt) to allow a chorus of voices in on the action. And they do that very well. One nice characterization is the imaginary St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak) who appears as Johnny's alter ego and embodies uniquely delightful punk, which is the heartbeat of this kind of music. In earlier versions, Armstrong himself appeared in this role and that must have been a real treat for the die hards.
Overall, Green Day's music is killer and makes up for the thin story. In other words, you probably won't remember the plot all that much, but those songs sure will stick with you. The hard-to-miss political elements fit right in with our world today too, hopefully allowing us to question how the next generation will be affected by our decisions of today. Tell your parents the music is loud, but only because of the need to be heard. Oh and that also there is no intermission.
Get the original album here: