[No, it has nothing to do with Earth Day, I just thought it was a nice coincidence…. And upon further review, I feel like I’m channeling Ann Althouse… who linked this post]
Rage and love, those consuming emotions felt with a particularly acute pang in youth, all but burn up the stage in “American Idiot,” the thrillingly raucous and gorgeously wrought Broadway musical adapted from the blockbuster pop-punk album by Green Day.
“Hey Dudes! Guess what! The grown-ups on Broadway made a hecka-cool musical out of an album from the punk band Green Day! And it ROCKS!!!!!” Or so the reviewer from the New York Times thinks. It’s edgy!
Pop on Broadway, sure. But punk? Yes, indeed, and served straight up, with each sneering lyric and snarling riff in place…..
First off, Green Day is not punk.
But from the moment the curtain rises on a panorama of baleful youngsters at the venerable St. James Theater, where the show opened on Tuesday night, it’s clear that these kids are going to make themselves at home, even if it means tearing up the place in the process.
Which they do, figuratively speaking.
Either this reviewer is to old to remember and appreciate what punk really was, or is way to young, and simply doesn’t know what punk really was. Again, Green Day is not a punk band. A punk band would NEVER be caught dead putting this song on an album. Sorry, punk does not do Broadway. And if they did, they would tear up the place… literally.
“American Idiot,” directed by Michael Mayer and performed with galvanizing intensity by a terrific cast, detonates a fierce aesthetic charge in this ho-hum Broadway season. A pulsating portrait of wasted youth that invokes all the standard genre conventions — bring on the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, please! — only to transcend them through the power of its music and the artistry of its execution, the show is as invigorating and ultimately as moving as anything I’ve seen on Broadway this season. Or maybe for a few seasons past.
Has Broadway really been that pathetic? What follows is perhaps the most lame thing a New York Times writer has written in this ho-hum Broadway season:
Who’s the American idiot being referred to? Well, as that curtain slowly rose, we heard the familiar voice of George W. Bush…
Oh, now there is a HUGE surprise, seeing as the album’s title and theme was aimed squarely at the evil Bush. Duh!
….we heard the familiar voice of George W. Bush break through a haze of television chatter: “Either you are with us, or with the terrorists.” That kind of talk could bring out the heedless rebel in any kid, particularly one who is already feeling itchy at the lack of prospects in his dreary suburban burg.
But while “American Idiot” is nominally a portrait of youthful malaise of a particular era — the album dates from 2004, the midpoint of the Bush years, and the show is set in “the recent past” — its depiction of the crisis of post-adolescence is essentially timeless.
Ah, yes. The ggod ol’ days. Back when it was OK to hate the President. Of course, bashing Bush was not exactly edgy or breaking new ground by the time “American Idiot” came out – Dixie Chicks, Keith Olberman, and Rosie “fire has never melted steel” O’Donnell had already blazed that trail. What make the Green Day album notable was not the music – I doubt many could name a single song from the album, or hum one of the tunes – but the fact that the anti-Bush sentiment was marketed so prominently as a feature of the album. I know the “American Idiot” album won a Grammy, but does anyone really think it would have been nearly as successful if it wasn’t an exercise in Bush bashing?
“American Idiot” is a true rock opera, almost exclusively using the music of Green Day and the lyrics of its kohl-eyed frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, to tell its story. (The score comprises the whole of the title album as well as several songs from the band’s most recent release, “21st Century Breakdown.”) The book, by Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Mayer, consists only of a series of brief, snarky dispatches sent home by the central character, Johnny, played with squirmy intensity by the immensely gifted John Gallagher Jr. (“Spring Awakening,” “Rabbit Hole”).
“I held up my local convenience store to get a bus ticket,” Johnny says with a smirk as he and a pal head out of town.
“Actually I stole the money from my mom’s dresser.”
“Actually she lent me the cash.”
Wow! Brilliant! Kind of reminds me of the one that goes “I’m a punk band… well not really”. But enough of my Green Day bashing. It’s not their fault.
Such is the sheepish fate of a would-be rebel today. But at least Johnny and his buddy Tunny (Stark Sands) do manage to escape deadly suburbia for the lively city, bringing along just their guitars and the anomie and apathy that are the bread and butter of teenage attitudinizing the world over. (“I don’t care if you don’t care,” a telling lyric, could be their motto.)
Oh, more originality – escaping proto-hick-town middle America for the wonderful “Big City”! Don’t get me wrong, I actually have experience with this sort of thing. I was raised in “The Big City” and moved to a real Nowheresville when I was a teen. We’re talking about going from Dallas Texas to a town where there is no movie theater or bowling alley. Hell, there wasn’t even a stoplight when I moved there at the tender age of 13! What I went through was worse than being trapped in suberbia… it was being trapped in no-burbia! (I couldn’t wait to get out. Landed in San Diego…. Aahhhh. Relief at last!!!) But this is a story that’s been told ad-nauseum. Oh, and too bad 3rd Matinee beat Green Day to that “I don’t care if you don’t care” sentiment by a good ten years.
Having not seen the play I can’t criticize the the thing. Maybe it’s as good as the NYT theater critic says it is. But I find it hard to believe that a musical based on such shallow material could lift itself to the heights that this critic portends. I find it sad that the material that this is based on is the best they could do when deciding to produce a rock opera of this nature. There is at least one “Rock Opera” out there just begging for the same attention. It’s called “The Shaming Of The True” by the late, brilliant Kevin Gilbert. Not only is the story of Johnny Virgil, the protagonist of the album, very well laid out, but the character itself is somewhat autobiographical of Gilbert’s frustrations with not only the music industry as a whole, but also the betrayal of his now-famous ex girlfriend, who used his music then cast him aside as she catapulted to the superstar status and recognition he so desperately reached for (more on that story here). And the music itself has a power that is a rare commodity for modern artistic standards. Kevin Gilbert died before he could complete the album, way too young, at 29, and never got the chance to finish this master project. It only exists today because a few very close friends, fellow musicians, decided to make the completion of “Shaming” a labor of love and respect for their friend.
PS. “Dookie” was a fine album, very punk-ish. But, like the Police when they first formed, they are way too competent and skilled on their respective instruments to be “Punk”. The Police realized this early on, which is why they abandoned the whole idea of trying to be a punk band, and wrapped their music with a reggae-punk style that was all their own, and each album did better than the last. Green Day? Each album after “Dookie” slagged on the charts, and sales dropped, until they hit on the brilliant formula of bashing Bush, and like the Dixie Chicks, sales took off.