American Idiot at The Paramount is a Holiday for Green Day Fans
The sons (and daughters) of rage and love were in the audience and onstage for the opening of Green Day’s American Idiot, a musical based on the band’s 2004 iconic album (tickets now through June 10 at the Paramount Theatre). For fans of the album, this rock musical taps into the angst-fueled vibe of the recording and brings it to life in an engaging, raucous stage show.
American Idiot is more Tommy than We Will Rock You, the “jukebox” musical cobbled together from Queen songs. The album holds together as the rock opera that Green Day intended it to be, and the musical version brings the characters of The Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy, and Whatsername together in a story of disaffection, anger, loneliness, and redemption.
What this musical–wisely–decides not to do is define its characters or the storyline too clearly. It gives you just enough to hold together while allowing you to play out the story that you always had in your head from listening to the album. It lets the musical and the story mean whatever you want it to mean. It stays potentially personal to each audience member.
Looking oddly like the love child of Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong and drummer Tre Cool, Van Hughes plays the lead character of Johnny with an appropriate ferocity. He’s a good rock singer and captures the feel of the original songs while still keeping the sound in a somewhat musical theatre-ish context. He starts the show off in your face with the title song (“American Idiot”), with middle finger blazing in salute to the suburban teenager. As an actor, he shows his range as a goes from guns blazing to a soft and heartfelt “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
His alter-ego/frenemy/enabler, St. Jimmy, is played/sung with Alan Cumming-like malevolence by Joshua Kobak. He is clearly having fun in the role that Billy Joe played for a while on Broadway, announcing his brand with “St. Jimmy.” It’s always more fun to play the bad guy. Vocally, he was one of the strongest rock singers in the cast. Surprisingly, the vocals overall were uneven, with Johnny’s mate Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) on the other end of the spectrum with pitch issues throughout.
Whatsername enters in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with a Steven Tyler-like “Dream On” wail. Gabrielle McClinton plays her with a raw sexuality and vulnerability.
The really excellent band stays on stage throughout the show, except when the songs go acoustic on the guitar played by anyone (and at the end, everyone) in the cast. The gritty unit set features video screens that flash lyrics, venue indicators (“We’re now at a 7-11”), EKG signals and (frequently) the f-word to keep the punk-y, street cred thing going.
Listening to the comments from the young teen boys near me as we left the theatre–many of whom are attending their first live musical theatre performance–it’s clear they had the time of their lives.