Strobe lights, fog, and guitar riffs filled the Orpheum theatre on opening night of American Idiot, a jukebox musical commemorating the music of Greenday. Though the term “jukebox musical” is an accurate description of this show, it is often thought of in a negative light, with songs thrown together and a loose plot. But this show was anything but a negative experience. American Idiot follows the journeys of three boys attempting to escape the walls of suburbia. One boy, Will, stays home with his pregnant girlfriend while the other two, Jonny and Tunny, head off to the city. Shortly after leaving, Tunny enlists in the army while Johnny discovers the joys of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Love, loss, and heartache ensue.
Prior to seeing this show, I googled it to prepare myself for what lay ahead. Scanning the screen, I saw that American Idiot had won a Tony for Best Lighting Design of a Musical. Knowing this, I expected spectacular lights and effects. Wikipedia sure doesn’t lie. In the opening number, “American Idiot,” I was already over stimulated (in a good way) by the strobe lights and insane sound. Throughout the show, the lighting stayed a bit dark, conveying the teenage angst we all encounter. The set was rugged, giving off a warehouse vibe and enhancing the rawness of the show.
I’ve never been a “rocker” type girl, but walking into the theatre, I was really excited. It’s unusual to see an unconventional show like this; 90 minutes, no intermission, live band onstage—a show like this is different; risky. With many middle-aged people in the audience, I was worried as to how some people might react. There is a fair amount of sex and profanity in the show, paired with plenty of drug and alcohol use. That being said, Greenday hasn’t ever been a “smiles and rainbows” kind of band. The songs address real issues, and if that makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you should try a more conventional musical.
If you haven’t heard Greenday’s music before, here’s the Broadway cast recording of the opening number, “American Idiot.”
Greenday’s music is hard and cutting, loaded with snarls and sneers, filling your head with provocative thoughts. The cast ofAmerican Idiot did the music justice and beyond. Johnny, played by Van Hughes, takes the lead in a number of the songs. His voice is perfect for the role. Not an imitation of Billie Joe Armstrong (Greenday’s lead singer), but just great vocal talent altogether. His emotion was harsh and raw, and you can hear the desperation in his voice during the more emotional numbers. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is one of the band’s more popular songs, and was perhaps one of my favorites of the Broadway adaptation. Backing away from the hard rock, the song begins with Hughes and his guitar—acoustic and natural. But approaching the chorus, the band kicks and we hear a perfect balance of vulnerable and tough.
American Idiot pushes the boundaries and makes you think. And my eyes certainly became a bit wet towards the end. From the plot or musical perfection, I do not know. But I do know that I walked into the theatre ready to be wowed, endured an incredible artistic experience, and walked out yearning to see it all over again.