by Thomas F. Cole
“I don’t care if you don’t care!” A poignant lyric echoed by each of the three main protagonists in the current production of alternative punk rock group Green Day’s American Idiot currently running at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Theatre and which opened on Friday, May 11.
Teenage angst? American Idiot takes you way beyond it. We’re talking about post-teenage angst, here!
Set in the recent past of American suburbia (cynically called Jingletown), American Idiot is a rock opera about three confused, disillusioned companions---Johnny, Will, and Tunny---who are fed up with their dead end lives. They are enraged about what the government, the media, and TV (mainly reality shows as opposed to real reality) have done to indoctrinate the populace into American idiots. After realizing that they have done nothing about their dreams and are on the verge of succumbing to the brainwashing they so detest, they seize upon a plan to start caring again: a road trip! A “holiday” across the country with a stop at a big city. The plan hits a snag when Will backs out when he is visited by his pregnant girlfriend, Heather, who is hopeful that he’ll take his share of responsibility. The three, along with other angry youths, endeavor to sort it all out---the despair, loneliness, betrayal, rage, lies, etc. by play’s end.
American Idiot is based on Green Day’s 2004 comeback, concept album of the same name, along with material from their 21st Century Breakdown album. It was a response to the post 9-11 world and the conflict in the Middle East, specifically Iraq. It opened on Broadway on April 20, 2010, and closed on April 24, 2011. It won Tony Awards for Best Lighting and Scenic Design.
The original creative team consisted of Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong (Book and Lyrics), the Green Day Band (Music), Michael Mayer (Book and Director), and Steven Hoggett (Choreography).
Since this story is mainly told through song and dance, casting and coordinating the band, sound, choreography, and the actor/vocalists were challenges for director, Chad William Baker. Baker’s casting proved to be spot on. His staging was unique, especially in “Give Me Novacaine.” However, perhaps his best move was in allowing choreographer, Rita Gnida, enough latitude for her extraordinary choreography.
Gnida thankfully kept the current trend of wall to wall foot stomping to a minimum. Instead, she opted for attacking each episode with largely original, well–thought out movement. She did put in a signature head bang, which does come up from time to time. Her jarring harsh steps added much to the tension in the story. Her staging of the lament, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was very moving.
Joseph Green (Johnny, a.k.a. Jesus of Suburbia) plays the main protagonist with just the right mix of depression and hope. His vocals are outstanding and very crisp in the love song, “When It’s Time” and in the blockbuster, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
Other standouts: David Hansen (Will) shines in “Know Your Enemy” and “Nobody Likes You.” Conner Wieland (Tunny) is an exceptional vocalist! His “Extraordinary Girl” is exactly that: extraordinary! Richelle Arguello (Heather: Will’s pregnant girlfriend) sparkles in “Last Night On Earth.” Erica Close (Whatshername: Johnny’s girl in the window) has great facial expressions and is exceptionally good in “21 Guns.” Madeline Lynch (St. Jimmy: Johnny’s pusher with a stunning reveal) kills in every song she’s in. Don’t miss “Last Night On Earth!” Danielle Katsoulos (Extraodinary Girl: a war nurse) nails “Extraordinary Girl!” Her duet with Tunny is not to be missed! The whole ensemble impresses in “Holiday”, “21 Guns”, and “Boulevard, “ but ensemble member Spencer Beyerlein is particularly good in “Too Much Too Soon.”
Sound Designer Jacob Kaufman and Music Director Sara Taylor did a rare job of finding just the right mix between the band and the vocals. Since this is a production with very little dialogue, hearing the singing is vital. The cast was not overwhelmed by the music. Bravo! One clipped lyric of Will’s near the show’s beginning was the only sound glitch.
Lighting Designer Bailey Banks makes sure we don’t miss the iconic beating heart hand grenade logo and provides us with a gritty look to the stage, as well. Some characters had trouble finding the spotlight early on, but this was corrected later.
Set Designers Chad William Baker, Ken Duby, Amy Spadafore and Mary Walen Swift went minimalistic (some furniture, props, a platform), and it worked, for the most part. The lack of a sign indicating the 7-11 where our disgruntled youth gather at pivotal times was disappointing.
Costumer Amy Spadafore had fun, especially with the use of bright reds in “Favorite Son.”
Something which did bother me, however, was that a certain injury to one of the characters was inexplicably modified, lessening its impact.
The 90-minute production is usually performed straight through; The Pit and Balcony puts in an intermission. I found that that disrupted the mood, but I understand why it was done.
The evening has emotional power ballads, anti-heroes, and outstanding vocals, music, staging, and dancing. You can share the angst, if you don’t share the politics. The harmonies of the entire cast are quite chilling! Everyone has to deal with his/her own reality. Pit and Balcony’s American Idiot is one of the good things about life.
Saturday, May 12: 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 13: 3:00 p.m.
Friday, May 18: 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 19: 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 20: 3:00 p.m.
Age appropriateness: Has scenes of drug use, suggested sex, and use of adult language. I would not recommend it for young teens and below.