Drugs, rebellion, and bohemian dishabille are hardly new to Broadway — Hair, Rent, and Spring Awakening all got there first, by a Tony mile. But American Idiot has something its taboo-baiting predecessors didn?t: an already-smash soundtrack courtesy of Green Day, the Bay Area band largely responsible for taking punk rock from the snarling, safety-pinned fringes to the multiplatinum mainstream over the past two decades.
The surprise in this fast-moving 90-minute spectacle (originated at California?s Berkeley Rep last fall) isn?t seeing a genre known for its often-atonal three-chord angst brought to the stage, it?s how easily the songs lend themselves to an all-jazz-hands-on-deck milieu. The show?s 21(!) musical numbers — primarily from the trio?s 2004 album American Idiot, plus last year?s 21st Century Breakdown — have their rock-operatic tendencies magnified and exalted by the young, committed cast.
It?s a good thing that they do, because the plot, as it were, is remedial: broad pencil lines sketched beneath the music?s heady full-color assault. John Gallagher Jr., a 2007 Tony winner for his role in Spring Awakening, stars as Johnny, a dreamy-eyed delinquent searching, with best friends Tunny (Stark Sands) and Will (Michael Esper), to escape the dead-end holding pen of small-town life by making a break for the big city; inevitable obstacles confront each one in the form of, respectively, heroin, the military, and a girlfriend?s unexpected pregnancy.
The boys? female counterparts – especially Daphne Rubin-Vega doppelgänger Rebecca Naomi Jones and the vivid, malleable Christina Sajous — take on the show?s myriad challenges with ease, though Mary Faber, as Heather, the girl reluctantly with child, seems woefully miscast; she?s game, but her pert, clean-cut looks defy the rebel-yell material. While the book (and the minimal, obscenity-strewn dialogue) often disappoints, there?s much here that works: the muscular, rough-hewn choreography; the inspired staging; the infectious energy of the performers. Interracial relationships and cast members with markedly non-dancer body types are treated as utterly unremarkable, and are thus (paradoxically) worth mentioning. Certain set pieces also shine: a spangly, inspired army-recruitment scene, a piled-on bus ride, and an Aladdin-tinged bit of aerial magic.
Still, punk nihilism and showbiz spirit-fingers are uneasy bedfellows. And at times, Idiot?s efforts to meld the two are jarring. In that sense, Billie Joe Armstrong and director/co-writer Michael Mayer?s decision to emphasize songs over story may have actually done them a favor; it keeps the action moving swiftly and leaves little time to linger on narrative weakness. Purists on either side of the punk/Broadway divide will likely feel under-served by the mix, but for fans of both (and the ecstatic crowd seemed full of them), the evening offers a chaotic, cathartic experience. B
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)