American Idiot: Washington, DC, American Idiot Rocks DC’s National Theater!

03 American Idiot NationalThea

These days it seems like Broadway is all about adapting movies, tv, or books into shows, American Idiot is the strangest of animals because it turns two popular Green Day albums – American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown into a musical.

When I first saw this on Broadway, I’ll admit it, I kind of hated it. I didn’t understand the point of it, didn’t know anything about Green Day and thought the lead characters were whiny. A funny thing happened, I purchased the Broadway Cast album and fell head over heals in love with the music. It kicks all kinds of butt and I think the multi-tiered, complex, arrangements here are better than Green Day’s originals.

Featuring one of the best Broadway soundtracks ever, the hits come fast and furious without much of a break. A lot of songs are squeezed into this brisk 90-minute production. “American Idiot” kick starts the show and it rarely slows down from there.

10 American Idiot NationalThea

Jared Nepute (Johnny) in AMERICAN IDIOT (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Some of my favorite moments include the amazingly, heartfelt “21 Guns,” the emotional semi-acoustic “Whatshername,” the gorgeous “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and the heart stopping build up on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

The creative team includes Scenic Design by Christine Jones (Spring Awakening), Costume Design by Andrea Lauer (Bring It One), Lighting Design by Kevin Adams (Spring Awakening) and Sound by Acme Sound Partners, all working under the very capable hands of Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening).  A special mention needs to go out to the stellar choreography work by Steven Hoggett (Once, Peter and the Starcatcher).

Green Day’s Billie Joe and Michael Mayer’s Book expands on the material and universe touched on in Green Day’s landmark album. We follow a year in the life of three disaffected youths – Johnny (Jared Nepute), Will (Casey O’Farrell), and Tunny (Dan Tracy) as they come of age.  The entire cast was on point most of the night, it sounded like there were a couple of audio glitches in the beginning during Dan Tracy’s opening verses of American Idiot and other points, but it was eventually corrected.

02 American Idiot NationalThea

Dan Tracy (Tunny), Jared Nepute (Johnny) and Casey O’Farrell (Will)
in AMERICAN IDIOT (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The show starts with all three watching TV News clips of war in Iraq, classic MTV logos, etc. It’s a weird mix of clips that makes it hard to pinpoint the exact time period.  The world around them is messed up but they don’t participate in any way in it. Just sit home, drink, and talk about their dreams of getting out.

My issue with the show has always been; the angst isn’t earned. The audience is never given a specific reason for their anger, especially Johnny’s.  He just comes across as someone who is whiney for the sake of whining. When he finally gets to run off to the city he makes a big show of it and pumps himself up by telling people he “Stole the money by robbing a liquor store when his mother gave it to him.”

Tunny is the only one of the three who takes charge of their life, after sitting around in the city doing nothing with Johnny he joins the military. Really though, don’t get caught up in the story, it’s typical by the numbers stuff. We see Johnny’s inevitable descent into drugs and meet his alter ego St. Jimmy who is a hard charging, devil may care kind of guy.

08 American Idiot NationalThea

The company of AMERICAN IDIOT (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Will’s dream of leaving is destroyed when he finds out his girlfriend is Pregnant. He spends most of the show literally sitting on a couch. But then that’s the point, as Johnny says at the end after all of his trials and tribulations he says he finally realizes that he’s “An American Idiot.” Not entirely sure what the show was trying to say about the American condition? Appreciate what you have?

The three leads and everyone do a fantastic job with what they are given considering there’s very little dialogue in the show. It transitions pretty fast between songs and set pieces. After a few weeks of seeing productions that had fairly bare stages, the production design on this show features a riot of colors, lights and a wonderfully cluttered set. Your eyes will never settle on any one thing for more than a few minutes and you can feel the energy in this production.

Story aside, this is one of the most gorgeous and energetic shows around. It is the show you take people who would never give a Broadway show a try. It is a true rock concert with musical trappings. This show has one of the greatest encores ever; the entire cast with acoustic guitars do a rousing, fun version of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” it is a beautiful and unexpected way to end. I still say Johnny is an unlikable douchebag, but this show is a must see.

American Idiot is now touring nationally, be sure to check it out when it comes to a town near you. For more information check out the show’s YouTube page and website.