by Jeffrey Mindock
Make sure to put American Idiot at Pit and Balcony Theatre on your calendar because it is not to be missed. The entire ensemble responsible for this risk-taking endeavor deserves your support based on its execution and cultural merit.
American Idiot is a visceral jukebox musical that utilizes its source material in the same vein as The Who’s Tommy. For those of you who may or may not know Green Day’s seminal 2005 Best Rock Album, it’s an assessment of post 9/11 American society. It covers a wide range of topics that are most suitable for the high school and older crowd, unless there are some patrons who believe in early exposure of life’s realities for their adolescents. The story follows three friends - Johnny, Will, and Tunny - as they each experience the ups and downs of growing up in a country with split factions, war both at home and far away, and an increasing amount of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? What is most impressive about Pit and Balcony’s production is that I left the theater thinking about all of those things with greater focus and energy than I did when I arrived.
From the first chord, it’s apparent that this ensemble is ready to rock. This is an impressive group of singers from top to bottom, complemented by an impressive group of musicians led by music director Sara Taylor. I cannot speak enough to the quality of the ensemble as a whole, who keeps the audience enveloped in the abstract emotions of the music they are performing. Joe Green is an attractive leading man with the strong tenor voice, guitar playing skills, and bleach blonde hair to make him many teenage girls’ first crush. Conner Wieland executes the most complete performance of the evening as the American hero whose is experience overseas is anything but a dream. Madeline Lynch convinces anyone in the audience that St. Jimmy has no gender (the role is normally cast as a man) thanks to her neck snapping pipes. The most captivating performance came from a performer who said no words; I cannot remember any performer capturing my attention every time they took the stage like Ally Nacarato did on Saturday evening. Her technique, commitment, and focus drew my attention in every number in which she was featured, which is all the more impressive because very few ensemble members were “featured” in a specific number. Especially high praise must be delivered to director Chad William Baker and his cast for their finesse and execution of the more intimate moments in the play. These moments, which you will have to discover for yourself, are often ones that separate a good play from the great. These moments made this American Idiot a great play. The only criticism I have of the production is that I didn’t observe enough justification for the emotional payoff in the final moments of the play, which I attribute to some missed character development during monologues and moments of silence. This piece is very demanding (in the best way possible), and I missed the connective tissue for the final moments of storytelling.
With all of that said, the true stars of this production are Rita Gnida’s choreography and Bailey Banks’ lighting design. The choreography from start to finish left me craving more and wondering if the Great Lakes Bay region knows how lucky they are to have Miss Gnida’s talent in their midst. Without a doubt, the choreography is worth the price of admission (which, again, is as much a credit to the ensemble as it is to Miss Gnida). To add Banks’ evocative, textured, punctuated lighting design was figurative icing on the cake. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a play that demonstrated such balance among all its moving parts. The scenic design (Chad William Baker, Ken Duby, Amy Spadafore, and Mary Walen Swift) and costume design (Amy Spadafore) were simple and effective; the sound design was also well balanced, but could have helped some of the actors experiencing vocal fatigue a little bit more.
In case you can’t tell, I think you need to see American Idiot before it closes - just make sure that you’re ready to rock.