Go ask Alice, or rather, the Jesus of Suburbia


All of suburbia shuffles to the Orpheum, to bask in the lights of the Seven-11. They flock, an intrigued congregation, to meet Johnny, the Jesus of Suburbia. People proceed to shuffle into their seats, iced drinks in hand, even well into the first act. “Entertain us with head-banging therapy,” the audience whispers. “Please fill the void.”

Ladies and gentlemen of Suburbia, I give you Billy Joe Armstrong’s American Idiot:  A nearly-plotless collage of shameful American stereotypes, with two Tonys, an excellent cast and creative team, and the most cliche song lyrics in music history.

American Idiot has been capturing much acceptance in the theater world for its perpetuating character.  The rock opera turned-musical has reached national popularity, due to it’s Twilight-like ability to give the audience what it’s afraid to ask for. (A live sexy scene, dampened teenaged love, trite anger lyrics, etc.) Nominated for best musical at the Tonys, American Idiothad so much promotional work done, Billy Joe Armstrong himself played the role of St. Jimmy on Broadway to rally the theater-goers.  This production is not simply a musical, but a work of self-advocacy.  I believe all recognition is indeed well-deserved.

The cast and sound designers are entitled to a television fix. Hughes’ voice and overall physicality was perfect for that whining, emotional role of Johnny. Van Hughes played the stumbling Johnny with unwavering dedication. Truthfully, no one in the cast faltered. I honestly don’t know if I’ve seen human beings whip their necks and spines for that long. I was awestruck sitting in my seat, feeling drained on behalf of everyone onstage. They still had the energy to lash to trite lyrics by Act II! One has to wonder how these “kids” on a “steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin” can do it.

The entire cast looked and sounded great, with the help of the amazing sound designer, Brian Ronan, and all the sound managers.  Usually, opening night does not sound that clean. It started smashingly well, but by the end of the show I felt bombarded by the wall of cannoning Green Day drums.  The volume was good, for about 30 minutes. “Letterbomb”  came dangerously close to sensory overload.

The most incredible aspect of American Idiot was not the lyrics, most markedly, “The end of the world is over!” Gag. Seventh grade apocalypse, here we come. At points, when Johnny would give a date and time to set another scene in the play, it became so “Go Ask Alice” I wanted to puke.

Nay, the most incredible aspect of American Idiot was the lighting. I want to personally congratulate Kevin Adams for the well-earned Tony he received for his interpretive lighting design.  His use of hundreds of television screens felt loyal to the acidic, “Sieg Heil to the president Gasman,” image. Even I took on the stale lyrics of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with the urban, soft window lights that shone behind the passionate Van Hughes. 

Next order of business: a round of applause for artistry that went into those lights, and a standing ovation to the beautiful underbelly of the American Idiot set.

It felt strangely nostalgic to bask in the lights of the Seven-11 again. Many young adults today once identified with the tracks on American Idiot. We’ve all been rebels at some point or another. If you wish to relive the narcissism, trite lyrics, and the guilty comfort of Green Day’s music, then American Idiot will fill that void with all the head-banging therapy you will ever require.  To all the shuffling disciples of the Jesus of Suburbia, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find [American Idiot is right up your alley].”