Tonight we caught a preview showing of Green Day’s musical American Idiot at the Berkeley Rep. Before I start discussing my thoughts on the musical, let’s get the bias out of the way. I am fortunate to be under 30 years old, as the Rep offers a discount for those under 30. I paid about $18 for my pseudo box-ish seat. I am not a huge Green Day fan. What Poofy Fairy and I told the Daily Cal reporter who interviewed us before the show is that “We love musicals.” We are musical fans, first. Green Day just happened to be bringing the show to its more local roots. (924 Gilman, yaddah yaddah.)
So anyway, what better way to commemorate September 11th than to go to a Green Day show (without Green Day)? I don’t mean that facetiously. The significance didn’t come up in our hurried conversations to secure tickets when they first went on sale. But it was there, in our faces, in the opening number, when a scruffy Johnny Gallagher was yelling “Don’t wanna be an American Idiot” in front of a backdrop of upside-down American flags.
All in all, I just have to say: I’m not that angsty. I understand that a lot of my friends like the vert trio, but damn, when you bump up an entire album of their songs into one, big, dramatized listening party, it’s just a bit much. The show was punk done predictably. A super thinly threaded plot that basically allowed only for enough spoken word for Johnny Gallagher’s character, Johnny, to recite monologue via cliched caustic letters home. If you’re going to do musical theater, why not, I don’t know, talk a little bit, too? Dialogue is not a bad thing. I love musicals, but sometimes too much singing gets on my nerves.
In terms of visuals, the stage was pretty cool, kinda like this generation’s Rent but looking a little more comic book-ish. Black and white punk posters and graffiti plastered the walls, and interspersed throughout were hanging monitors that changed according to the scene. I loved the lighting. When Gallagher broke into his rendition of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” cityscape lights descended, creating the feeling you’d expect walking through a concrete city at night. That setting was beautiful.
The choreography was something else entirely. I generally thought a lot of it was overdone. Jaunty, spastic ballerina poses? A sensual duet with shooting up tubing? Really? Some of my companions liked it. I thought it was kind of silly. Maybe if the shooting up tubing duet didn’t follow an oddly centralized sex scene I wouldn’t have noticed it as much, or have been as averse to it. I didn’t find any of the theme unsettling; I just wasn’t particularly convinced of anything. Though I wasn’t particularly moved by their prescribed movements, I did appreciate the use of apparatuses. The moving metal structures were cool, and I think the tubing has great potential.
Now, costumes. To be fair, American Idiot is in its preview run, so I’m sure further refinement is yet to come. Still, it looked like each kid was given $100 and told to go wild at H&M. Is that punk? Is that what it was supposed to look like? Surprisingly, just one girl looked like she walked straight outta Hot Topic, what with her pink hair streak and darkly shadowed eyelids. I suppose it depends on the visionaries’ original goals. If the actors on stage are supposed to portray contemporary youth, then yes, dress them in freshly printed graphic tees all you like. If the actors on stage are supposed to be “punks,” the likes of which Billie Joe, Tre, Mike hung out with in high school, then again – and I’m no expert – I think they fell short.
Then again, maybe H&M just successfully bastardized the original punk look? Who knows where the cycle starts?
In terms of music, American Idiot the musical is American Idiot the album, with lights and movement. I felt like tonight Gallagher wasn’t trying too much (Though, OH, I love him so! Poofy and I were discussing hanging out in downtown Berkeley just to fall into his graces…), but the women–The women! Mary Faber, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Christina Sajous were my favorites. Their voices were so refreshing amidst all the angry teen-esque yelling. Their variation of “21 Guns” was such a breath of fresh air for me. I was almost angry that men started coming into the arrangement, spoiling the soft, mature soul that the women had. I never really cared for that song before, but ahh, I want to hear it again!
Another notable character was Saint Jimmy. Played by Tony Vincent, Jimmy is this Sid Vicious/Billy Idol-looking, Billy Corgan-sounding drug dealer. He shops exclusively at Hot Topic and manipulates Gallagher’s character away from his relationship with “Whatshername.” (I know, the profundity overwhelms me.) Really, though, as much as I enjoyed the funky live video feed treatment on Jimmy’s character, I kept wondering, I thought punk was supposed to be all against these silly stereotypes of bad guys looking like bad guys and drugs being all bad. Then I had to remind myself that Green Day is no longer subculture punk. Not that I’m anyone to pass this type of judgment, but they’re all mainstream.
At some point, and this is no surprise, Gallagher dallies with turning into a Chuck lookalike, a la Zachary Levi. White button-up shirt and tie, corporate badge pinned to his left breast pocket. Life-changing, I know. Is that show even on anymore?
In the end, Gallagher dies alone. Well, no, he doesn’t die on stage. His character doesn’t die in the script. It’s just this typical “Oh, fuck, what do I do now?” post-hangover existential crisis. Accompanied by erratic dancing, of course.
I’m quite hopeful for the show, though, and the possibilities this may create for the future of musical theater in general. Maybe more of the tweens who get dropped off at the mall for trips to H&M and Hot Topic will discover the performing arts that this one band they heard on the radio is supporting. They’ll feel like they can relate to the characters on stage, the ones with the similarly cracked black nail polish and smudged eyeliner. I hope that happens, and I hope they become drama nerds at school. And maybe they’ll even be the ones to be cast in an upcoming show.
It’s also great to be able to say you saw such a decidedly punkish show in such a decidedly non-profit theater. I don’t think the Rep could be any more appropriate, even for all the amazing Broadway veterans on stage. (Gallagher wasn’t the only one! [In fact, Brian Charles Johnson, who’s in the AI ensemble, was also in Broadway’s Spring Awakening.]) Location, location, location.
If Green Day can do it, you know who I want to see next up on the rock band musical marquee? You know you love to hate your emos, but honestly, I want My Chemical Romance to come back into the mix. You know they’d put on a fucking good show. The Black Parade on Broadway! Let’s do it!