Green Day’s one-act rock opera American Idiot is making it’s way across the country, with the San Diego Civic Theatre currently hosting it for a run of eight shows through Sunday night.
Later this summer, the touring company will make its way to Japan and South Korea, extending the reach of this unlikely global phenomenon. Not to mention, there’s an accompanying book and Tom Hanks’ production company is involved with adapting it into a feature film.
Who knew? I mean, I think it’s pretty surprising, especially to those of us who perhaps listened to something like Green Day’s Kerplunk album on a hand-me-down cassette in the early '90s. Regardless, this is a juggernaut of crazy proportions; and I was interested to see what all the fuss was about.
The intermission-less, almost entirely sung-through musical opens in grand fashion against a gigantic wall of dozens of TVs, all blaring with various pop culture references like American Idol and South Park, with alternating video and sound bytes from outlets like CNN and Fox News.
The elaborate set also includes tall scaffoldings and enough room to fit an entire band onstage, with the cast switching out scene props between and during songs.
The tone was set immediately with the main characters using the little bit of dialog they do have to say things like how they “j---ed off” and show off their punk attitude with lines like “Blah f---ing blah.”
That tone of punk attitude was furthered throughout the production by characters flipping the bird, smoking cigarettes and a laundry list of other supposed punk behaviors. The costume design was Hot Topic all the way, complete with skater-boy haircuts, skinny jeans and combat boots. Even though the set and costume design did more than border on the cliché, it was well-constructed, impressive in scope and successfully set the tone for the star of the production -- the music.
The onstage band -- and especially their musical director (who not coincidentally looked exactly like Green Day leader Billie Joe Armstrong)-- was incredible. They were on-point for the entirety of the performance, never missed (or were late for) a cue and injected the evening with the energy of a rock concert.
Thankfully, the performers followed that lead. We were told upon entering the theatre that the lead was being played by an understudy that night. It was impossible to tell that anything was changed, as he, as well as every other character, belted out their parts more than successfully. In fact, the actors, set design, choreography and, especially, the music, were all top-notch.
The plot? Not so much. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure that you can use the word plot with something so paper-thin. I’ve seen more intricate plot structures on an episode of Three’s Company and better character arcs in a single Peanuts cartoon strip.
One guy can’t leave home because his girlfriend is pregnant. One guy joins the military after being seduced by ads on TV. And the “main” character finds a girl he likes but immediately shoots her up with heroin.
And the “resolution” of each of the characters’ “story” is so ridiculously cliché and hackneyed, it was almost comical. But maybe that wasn't the point -- you don’t go to a kung-fu movie for the intricacy of well-constructed dialogue. And you certainly shouldn’t go to American Idiot if you’re interested in plot, character development or groundbreaking ideas.
However, if you’re a fan of Green Day’s music, well-staged choreography, elaborate set design, and energetic live performances, it more than delivers on that.
And with the massive success that this musical has achieved, it seems that’s all you need.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com