American Idiot at Oriental Theatre | Theater review

Adapted from Green Day’s 2004 album, this punk-rock opera is mostly successful in its depiction of inchoate teenage rage.
Photograph: Doug Hamilton American Idiot national tour
By Kris Vire |

In expanding the once-subversive punk trio Green Day’s 2004 concept album into a thrashing theatrical evening, director Michael Mayer and Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong owe a significant debt to prior endeavors—from Hair to Des McAnuff’s The Who’s Tommy to Mayer’s own staging of soft-rocker Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening. Luckily, American Idiot pays that debt back handsomely.

Inchoate teenage rage fuels the early actions of Idiot’s three teenage protagonists (or should that be antagonists?). Johnny (Van Hughes), Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) are sullen in suburbia, drinking beer, smoking weed and lashing out at anything and everything. The hulking walls of Christine Jones’s dingy set are bejeweled with video monitors flashing some of the suggested targets of that anger, from the selling of mindless consumerism to the selling of the Iraq War. Of course, some of the guys’ fury is the same unfocused strain that’s strafed teenage wastelands for generations, as Johnny illustrates when admitting that he didn’t steal bus fare from his mom’s dresser, she lent it to him. “Bitch,” adds this rebel with cloudy cause.

As entertainment, Idiot is as close to a rock concert as you’re likely to see in the ornate Oriental, in both production elements and attitude. This isn’t the show for theatergoers who aren’t into blaring guitars and strobe lights. But you wish Mayer and Armstrong had written a little more book. Though the narrative they thread together with almost no dialogue is impressive, some characters get short shrift. While jittery Hughes has a solid arc of finding and losing love with Whatsername (a strong Gabrielle McClinton) through his dependence on smack dealer St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak), the talented Epstein spends most of the show trapped on a couch. That’s something worth protesting.