Thursday, November 23, 2017
Stage

Review: Just like a Green Day song, 'American Idiot' the musical is taut, profane and full of heart

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — If you look beyond the onstage sex and bongwater guzzling and guttural profanity and heroin needles, American Idiot the musical is a sweet time at the theater. No, really, it is — but come to think of it, you might want to look beyond the robust tighty-whitie flaunting, too.

Taut, angsty and filled with throbbing heart, on Friday the show based on Green Day's 2004 Grammy-winning album unveiled like one of the Berkeley trio's punk anthems, ferocious but vulnerable. I'm not sure the confines of Morsani Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts have seen such a slamdance. And yet there was also great warmth in the 90-minute, no-intermission snapshot of a modern teenage wasteland. The play's run ends today with two shows; prepare to be challenged but ultimately entertained, tighty-whities and all.

Led by gnomish snot-noser Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day originally released the American Idiot LP in 2004 as a conceptual response to growing up angry during the Bush administration — or whenever American Idol, the play's not-so-subtle "reality TV" namesake, overtook the country. The album is brilliant, catchy, tonally adventurous; songs such as Holiday, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends were smart, thoughtful hits that acted as antidote to mass Britneyfication.

But truth be told, American Idiot was also a bit of an idea mess, as the band tried to tackle the media and the military and love and death and then some. So Armstrong, who along with writing the album co-wrote the musical's book, has wisely streamlined the narrative. Johnny, Will and Tunny are three drinking, smoking layabouts in suburbia dreaming of a better life, "in a land of make believe that don't believe in me." It gives nothing away to say their stories, intertwined with the track-for-track listing of the original album (plus a few other cuts), take them on disparate paths, all doused in tragedy.

Kudos to scenic designer Christine Jones, who won a 2010 Tony Award for her work on American Idiot. While accommodating an absolutely blazing six-piece onstage rock band — what an album to rip every night! — the set morphs in small, jarring increments, from a stoner's-paradise basement to grimy city apartment to military hospital — with a constant array of TV sets tucked everywhere and flashing incendiary rhetoric and pictures of Twinkies. There's also a darkly comic running gag as Will (played with woe-is-me charm by Casey O'Farrell) — well, let's just say poor Will spends a lot of time on a couch.

On Friday, understudy Brandon Kalm played Johnny, who dreams of being a rock star in the city but ultimately gets seduced by much stronger things, including drugs and a girl, Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma). The two actors shared sizzling chemistry (yikes!) and solid elastic voices, although it should be noted that everyone here pretty much delivers the songs like someone from Rent doing a Billie Joe Armstrong impression. Which is not such a bad thing, but let it be known: This is Broadway punk.

If there was a disappointment, it was Trent Saunders as St. Jimmy, who represents Johnny's bad-boy id, the mohawked devil on his shoulder. Saunders strikes a commanding presence, and yet his voice lacked the necessary range for a character so wicked and over-the-top, so capable of sin and explosions. I wanted that guy to wail almighty, and he just never uncorked it.

That said, you can't take your eyes off Saunders, especially during the song Know Your Enemy, a surprise inclusion from Green Day's 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown. Here, the accosting number involves a heroin needle, and man, it packs punch. So does Extraordinary Girl, during which Tunny (a heartbreaking Thomas Hettrick), hallucinates a savior to soothe his pain. The crowd gasped when the lovely song, and the stage, revealed a poetic, high-flying twist.

Of course, the reason Green Day has become one of the biggest bands on the planet is because they speak to more than just ticked-off youth; they speak to everyone. And that's exactly who erupted for a couple of thunderous standing ovations on Friday night. You might be offended one minute, but just wait for the next: It'll smash your heart.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Comments
‘Fun Home’ opens at the Straz, ‘The Little Prince’ at Freefall

‘Fun Home’ opens at the Straz, ‘The Little Prince’ at Freefall

LIFE AND DEATH: FUN HOMEEvery year, the Straz Center tries to mix it up a little, injecting a not-quite-so-safe show into an otherwise bankable lineup. Last year, that was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This year it’s Fun Home, a ...
Published: 11/22/17
Powerstories’ latest production strikes a personal chord with founder

Powerstories’ latest production strikes a personal chord with founder

In the upcoming musical Twelve, Powerstories Theatre will present a holiday story revolving around a single mother who’s working as a waitress in 1950 San Diego.For Powerstories founder Fran Powers, the production represents an account she crafted fr...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17
It’s a Doo Wop holiday at the Show Palace

It’s a Doo Wop holiday at the Show Palace

HUDSON — Music brings the Rudolph family together in A Doo Wop Christmas, which opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 25 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.This new production, directed by Peter Clapsis (The Great American Trailer Park Musical) with m...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/22/17
What’s on stage this week: Benji Brown, ‘No Man’s Land’ on screen, Florida Orchestra does Bruch

What’s on stage this week: Benji Brown, ‘No Man’s Land’ on screen, Florida Orchestra does Bruch

KIKI OR BUST: BENJI BROWNWherever Benji Brown goes, Kiki follows. The comic, known for his work on the Rickey Smiley Morning Show, created the fast-talking female character on the fly when he called a girl’s house in high school and her boyfriend pic...
Published: 11/15/17
American Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is just what the love doctor ordered

American Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is just what the love doctor ordered

ST. PETERSBURG — A centuries-old template for the rom-com as we know it and one of Shakespeare’s most produced comedies, Much Ado About Nothing comes to us at a time when we can really use some love conquering all. Just what the love doctor ordered, ...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Review: With a fine script, Stage West cast puts on a great show in ‘Baggage’

Review: With a fine script, Stage West cast puts on a great show in ‘Baggage’

Okay, I’ll admit I went into the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill on opening night of the comedy Baggage expecting another June/moon/spoon romance-comedy. And sure enough, that’s just the way it started.A man and a woman grab ea...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/16/17
From stickup to stand-up, bank robber's second act is comedy

From stickup to stand-up, bank robber's second act is comedy

TAMPA — He had dreamed about returning to comedy in odd moments, between meetings with the lawyer, the lonely trip to the correctional institute, picking up trash on state roads while a guard stood by with a rifle. This nightmare would make him...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/12/17
Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

The Red Rocker calls on time, and he is all kinds of fired up."Hey, Jay, Sammy Hagar here. Are you ready for me?"Is anyone ever truly ready for a phone call from Hagar, the flame-haired, motor-mouthed ex-Van Halen singer who once dubbed himself the C...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/12/17
What’s on stage this week: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Key West, Travis Wall Shaping Sound

What’s on stage this week: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Key West, Travis Wall Shaping Sound

AMERICAN STAGE: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHINGTwo couples nearly come apart at the seams for different reasons, the premise for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, opening at American Stage. This version is set in Key West in the 1940s, the end of World Wa...
Published: 11/08/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Review: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at Stageworks

Review: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at Stageworks

At the beginning of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion acknowledges that the audience might not want to hear her story because we don’t think it could happen to us."It will happen to you," Didion says with a rueful smile, and of course she’s r...
Updated one month ago