Jay W. Cullen (Will) with (left to right) Dakota Hughes, Janelle Villas, Aubrey McGrath, Whitney Dottery, Luke Linsteadt (Johnny), Malic White (St. Jimmy), Steven Perkins (Tunny) and the cast/band of The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
Jay W. Cullen (Will), Luke Linsteadt (center, Johnny) and Steven Perkins (Tunny) with the cast/band of The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
Aubrey McGrath with (left to right) Janelle Villas, Dakota Hughes, Whitney Dottery, Elisa Carlson and the cast/band of The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
Isa Arciniegas, Krystal Worrell (Whatsername), Elisa Carlson and Becca Brown (Extraordinary Girl) in The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
Malic White (St. Jimmy) with the cast/band of The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
Jay W. Cullen (Will), David Daniel Smith (Rock and Roll Boyfriend) and Becca Brown (Extraordinary Girl) with the cast/band of The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
Jay W. Cullen (Will), Steven Perkins (Tunny), Alex Madda (Heather), Becca Brown (Extraordinary Girl), Elisa Carlson, Luke Linsteadt (Johnny) and Malic White (St. Jimmy) with the cast/band of The Hypocrites’ American Idiot
No strangers to punk rock, the Hypocrites make a holiday of the Green Day show's first local production.
Sean Graney understandably has a reputation as the vision behind the Hypocrites, having directed and often adapted a great majority of the company’s productions over its nearly two decades. But in recent seasons the Hypocrites have been investing in new visionary voices from within the company, with Halena Kays, Geoff Button and now longtime ensemble member Steven Wilson emerging with strong directorial projects.
Wilson makes his directing debut with a project that’s a bit unusual for the Hypocrites, in that it’s the first professional production by a Chicago-based theater of a recent Broadway property. The Green Day musical American Idiot is the kind of show you might expect to show up at a number of other Chicago companies. (Indeed, it almost did, as licensing agency MTI initially gave simultaneous Chicago rights to both the Hypocrites and Griffin Theatre, as well as BoHo Theatre later in the season, unbeknownst to the three companies.)
But Wilson puts a very Hypocrites-style spin on the show, which uses Green Day’s 2004 album of the same name (with some additional material) to tell the story of three disillusioned young denizens of suburbia. Wilson divorces the text from the explicit post–9/11, Iraq War–era milieu of the rather overblown 2010 Broadway production, making it somehow both more timeless and more of the moment. (As winning newcomer Luke Linsteadt’s lead idiot Johnny plays “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” busker-style, a passerby excitedly takes smartphone video of his performance but declines to leave him a tip.)
Joe Schermoly’s intimate scenic design is more underground club than the original’s Tony-nominated, tech-heavy video wall. Wilson’s entire cast also serves as the band, with ensemble members often swapping in on multiple instruments in ways that serve not just the staging but the storytelling. When Johnny’s discarded love interest Whatsername (Krystal Worrell) gets her clapback number “Letterbomb,” for instance, she’s joined not just by other female cast members but an all-women backing band.
Wilson and company can’t solve all of the show’s issues. The casting of trans* performer Malic White as Johnny’s drug-pushing alter ego St. Jimmy adds an intriguing wrinkle, but the show’s female characters continue to get short shrift and exist only in relation to the male leads. The fact that a character can be named Extraordinary Girl (Becca Brown) while getting basically one duet’s worth of stage time is telling.
Still, Wilson’s inventive, right-scaled staging benefits from Katie Spelman’s attractively stuttery choreography and the strong young cast’s impressive, deeply invested musicianship (led by music director Andra Velis Simon); it’s a rousing reinvention of the flashier original. Are you the waiting? Don’t be.
The Hypocrites at the Den Theatre. Music by Green Day. Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong. Book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Directed by Steven Wilson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.