Lay Down Your Arms! AMERICAN IDIOT Is Back With a Vengeance

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It is always a task in futility when discussing American Idiot (punk super group Green Day’s 6 x platinum selling album turned 2010 Broadway musical), to those who simply don’t like the genre to begin with. 

My thoughts on that, as Johnny would say,  “stay the f**k home”.    What is American Idiot? It is loud; it is about young adult rebellion; it is by Green Day; it is spiritual; it is moving.  What American Idiot is not? Rent! So, to my colleagues, stop comparing the two.

American Idiot returns for the second time to Chicago after having had a successful run with the first national touring company.   The current non-equity tour, which spent a bulk of time overseas in now entrenched for a short, one week run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre and for the most part, the show is on-par with its equity brethren.

The story follows three suburbia-trapped friends who decide to find out what the big bad city is all about.   One is Johnny (who has a lot in common with Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong); Tunny, who is “tempted” into the armed forces; and Will who knocks up his girlfriend and chooses to stay home while the other two journey on.    Each of the three friends take an independent journey through hell and back ultimately being changed for the better, if not the most glamorous.

For those that don’t know, American Idiot comes from great pedigree; the concept album.   Like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Chess and Tommy before it, American Idiot was written by Green Day with a solid through line.   Though it was not initially conceived for the stage, it is by its very nature theatrical and an obvious choice for the boards with the right visionaries.

The problem I have always had with American Idiot is the way it is written (or unwritten) for the stage.  As it is now, American Idiot seems caught in a theatrical purgatory, somewhere between rock concert and theater, never knowing which path to take.  This would not be a bad thing except none of the major characters are as fleshed out as they could be making it difficult for the actors and audience to ultimately connect.

The biggest asset of this tour is Alex Nee, a Northwestern student, who commands the stage both vocally and in his innate ability to communicate his angst with the audience.    Alyssa DiPalma (Whatshername), Thomas Hettrick (Tunny), Casey O’Farrell (Will) and Jenna Rubah (The Extraordinary Girl) all create truthful and moving characters, allowing the amazing lyrics of Green Day’s songs to shape their acting choices.  That is something I’m sure director Michael Mayer instilled in this company.

On opening night, there were some major sounds issues with this tour.  Microphones were constantly going in and out making it impossible to hear some the lead actors during some very important moments.   Since this show has been out and about for quite some time, this type of technical difficulty is a bit shocking.  It does a disservice to the actors who give it their all as well as the patrons who can only become connected through understanding the lyrics.

That aside, American Idiot still can pack a wallop if you allow it to infiltrate your soul.   With numbers like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”; “Jesus of Suburbia”; “21 Guns” (the best song in the show) and “Holiday”, the genius of this groundbreaking punk-rock band shines through.   If you disagree with me, well than, f**k off.

American Idiot runs through April 21, 2013 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.  Tickets range from $18-$85.  For more information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.americanidiottthemusical.com.  For calendar information visit www.TheatreInChicago.com