American Idiot musical a hit in Toronto
Green Day's journey, from that of a young American punk band to the voice of a generation, is one of the most compelling stories in contemporary music. Their 2004 album American Idiot, the inspiration for the Tony-Award Nominated musical currently on stage at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, is an explosive portrait of the apathetic youth that inhabit the suburbs of middle-America.
The touring production, serving to launch Dancap's newest season, is an energetic rock opera which slam-dances its way through the early part of the decade. In an age full of flimsy musical translations of material that achieves any measure of commercial success, American Idiot rises above the crowd under direction from Michael Mayer and a leave-it-on-the-floor performance from a stellar cast.
The story follows Johnny (Van Hughes) and his friends Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) as they attempt to break out of the confines of suburbia. With a child on the way, Will is forever chained to his couch, never to make it to the big city. Tunny, eventually tired of the noise of the big city, enlists in the army and is shipped to the Middle East, while Johnny finds salvation through his friendship with St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak), the personification of "rage" — excessive drugs and partying.
With a musical based on previous content, the hallmark of success is whether or not the translation holds up as a piece on its own, and whether or not it elevates the original material. The latter of these qualities it achieves in spades — the music takes on deeper meaning spoken by the characters Billie Joe Armstrong intended to speak this language. To see Johnny, the Jesus of Suburbia, wreck himself to oblivion and sing Boulevard of Broken Dreams adds incredible dimensionality.
Told in this way, a number of interesting themes — the crisis of masculinity, love vs. rage, and the search for place — combine to make American Idiot a piece of theatre, not just a translation of the album. Mayer deserves much credit for fleshing out the stories of the three boys, using very little dialogue between songs. It's impressive how many plot points and connections he and Armstrong find in the album.
There are one or two scenes that feel off the mark. In the rendition of Wake Me Up When September Ends, Mayer has the cast slowly assemble as if they are watching the two towers fall. At the song's climax, the chorus too hits the ground and begins to fall upwards. It's a haunting image, but, save for the September reference, seems strangely tied to the 2004 song most closely associated with Hurricane Katrina. As well, Mayer utilizes a dream sequence, as Tully lays injured in the field, to inject some over-the-top aerial theatrics.
Save for these two scenes, the story clips along at a breakneck pace. Steven Hoggett choreographs a varied and energetic programme before an astounding set, designed by Christine Jones and featuring video and projections from Darrel Maloney. The adolescent playground is meticulously crafted.
The exuberant cast ensures that the tension, anger, and emotion of Green Day's music hits its mark. Hughes, who also played Johnny on Broadway, carries the show with a bang on interpretation. Hometown boy Scott J. Campbell brings depth and a strong voice to Tunny, and Gabrielle McClinton shines during the all-female number in what is, thematically, a very male dominated show.
American Idiot is loud, brash, unapologetic, and flashes the middle finger more than any other musical. It successfully combines what will become a classic rock album with a compelling theatrical narrative. Now if only tickets were more reasonably priced ($62-$180 and only two nights for the under 30 special), the show's true demographic could come out in droves.
American Idiot, directed by Michael Mayer with music by Green Day, runs at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until January 15.
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