The three guys (certainly not heroes and definitely not men) center stage are Johnny, Tunny, and Will, a collection of beer-swilling, pot-smoking pals with only vague dreams of glory. Johnny is our anti-hero, except he’s somehow less than an anti-hero. He manages to be the main character without elliciting any sympathy or antipathy. He traverses the “Big City” like the hapless loser that he is, falling for a gorgeous girl called Whatshername (played by Gabrielle McClinton) and turning to drugs for connection. “St. Jimmy,” Johnny’s drug-addled, Marilyn Manson-esque alter-ego, is played by Joshua Kobak, a sinister but fun ghoul who throws bags of drugs and glitter around the stage like candy.
Depressed and overwhelmed, Tunny ends up enlisting and shipping off to the Middle East. His recruitment is reminiscent of the haunting “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” scene from Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe.” Scott J. Campbell plays the part with dignity, his eyes and sweet voice radiate the pain and confusion of a promise reneged. His stunning aerial dance with Nicci Claspell, “The Extraordinary Girl,” is an exquisite take on the sexualization of war. No, there is no draft, but for an uneducated, lower-class kid like Tunny, is there really a choice?
Will, played by Jake Epstein of Degrassi and Spring Awakening fame, is scuppered early on by an unplanned pregnancy and left behind. Epstein’s inertia is startling. He stays on the couch for the entire show, in stark contrast to Johnny, who is seduced by drugs, and Tunny, who is seduced by war.
The Tony Award-winning set and lighting design, a magnificent spectacle in the original Berkeley Repetory Theatre production, travels extraordinarily well. The grungy set is covered in over twenty TV screens flashing clips of President George W. Bush, FOX newscasts, and war footage. Characters careen around on rickety scaffolding, the live band members skulk around the outskirts of the stage, raining down punk rock. Steven Hoggett’s visceral choreography is perfect — not so orchestrated that it strips the spirit of the mob dancing, but with razor sharp intention that magnifies the characters’ frustration.
Green Day has already shed many skins — the song “Good Riddance,” ironically one of the most-played songs at graduations and school dances, is a sardonic tribute to those who think the band’s evolution spat in the face of its punk roots. For those remaining fans who think that going Broadway is the ultimate and final betrayal… seriously, don’t worry about it. “American Idiot” on stage is every bit as angry and disgusting and real as the breakthrough album “Dookie.”
For Green Day fans: Even without Billy Joe, Mike, and Tre, this cast (many of whom performed with Green Day on Broadway) will knock your socks off. They are vulgar and young and full of blood and vinegar, just like the good ole days.
For theatre fans: This is not a jukebox musical with a flimsy plot and vapid characters. Yes, it’s “Hair” for a new generation, but it brings something else to the table. The staging of this show is like nothing you have ever seen. And there’s an incredibly dark and beautiful moment between Johnny and Whatshername during the song “Last Night on Earth” that will haunt you for days, in the best way that theatre can.
Don’t wanna be an American idiot? Buy your tickets NOW.
Green Day’s “American Idiot” plays through June 10th at the Paramount Theatre. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online, by calling 877-STG-4TIX (784-4849), or in person at the Paramount Theatre Box Office (10am-6pm Monday through Friday).
For more reviews and theatre news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua