Green Day‘s “American Idiot” doesn’t open until Tuesday night but I can tell you now, it’s a hit.
The problem is, it’s not quite a Broadway musical in the traditional sense. It’s a jukebox show without much of a story per se, or a “book.” If you’re looking for deep character development, “American Idiot” is not the show. This is no “Billy Elliot.”
But: “American Idiot” is vibrant, and so full of raw energy that it can’t be denied. It’s also maybe the best staging of a new musical since “Billy Elliot,” and far more cutting edge. Director Michael Mayer along with the set designer Christine Jones and choreographer Steven Hoggett have fashioned something unique and fresh from Green Day’s Grammy award winning 2004 album (along with some other songs from the group’s repetoire).
And then of course there are the young actors. “American Idiot,” is a little like “Spring Awakening” meets “Rent” but chucking the pretentiousness. John Gallagher Jr. leads the cast, and he is just mesmerizing along with Michael Espers, Tony Vincent, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Christina Sajous, and Mary Faber. Stark Sands (what a name, huh?) nearly stole the show from Gallagher, which isn’t easy.
It’ s hard to believe Green Day has been around since 1990. They’re sort of a punk-New Wave revival group, updating a power pop sound that first emerged around 1975-76 and lasted for about or seven years before it was commercialized. It’s ironic that when it originated, New Wave music was mostly shunned by radio and the general public for the more conservative sounds of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. By the time Green Day picked up the thread, the nostalgia wave for it was ready. The group owes everyone from Wreckless Eric and the Only Ones to the Dickies, the Cramps, the Stranglers, Nick Lowe and especially the Sex Pistols and the Ramones a shout out for inspiration.
What’s interesting about “American Idiot” is how well it works as a concert piece as designed by Mayer. (As a nod to Green Day fans, Mayer throws in an inventive curtain call of a non “AI” song, the group’s watershed hit from years earlier, “Time of Your Life” aka “Good Riddance.”) Every one of the songs is eminently performable, from the well known hits “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me When September Comes” to lesser material like “Are We the Waiting” and “Holiday.” You come out of this show humming songs you thought hadn’t really mattered.
So: more on “American Idiot” Wednesday morning after their premiere, which has to be great. And how I look forward to the CD score from the show to go with the original CD. (Download “American Idiot” now on amazon.com.) It may not be Sondheim or even “Memphis.” But “American Idiot” is so much what Broadway needed this season. It’s alive.