ST. PETERSBURG — Local theater gets an energetic dose of punk with American Stage’s production of “Green Day’s American Idiot.”
Conceived by punk band Green Day, the rock opera is based on the band’s 2004 concept album of the same name and includes songs from it and the 2009 album “21st Century Breakdown.” The musical debuted on Broadway in 2010.
The book was written by Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. The music is by Green Day with lyrics by Armstrong.
Armstrong was reacting to the events of the early 2000s, including the election of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, although those are not specifically represented. But the themes of frustrated youths disillusioned with authority who count their friends as family certainly hold up in today’s America.
Directed by Gavin Hawk, the rock opera follows three restless friends — Johnny, Will and Tunny — who long to escape the suburban landscape of Jingletown. Will’s plans are thwarted by his girlfriend’s pregnancy, and he has to stay home while Johnny and Tunny head to the big city. Failing to find himself there, Tunny enlists in the military and is shipped off to war. Johnny pursues his dream of being a rock star but gets caught up in drugs and develops a reckless alter-ego named St. Jimmy.
In the hands of another director, some of the show’s punk authenticity could be lost. But Hawk grew up in the punk scene in southern California, a hotspot in the 1990s for the genre known as SoCal. When he was a freshman in high school, his mother was in a life-threatening car accident, and Hawk found himself in a deep depression. Some friends from high school theater class took him to a Social Distortion punk show, and he found his tribe within the community.
“It really did save my life,” he said. He said that directing this show is a dream come true.
Because it’s a punk rock opera, there is very little dialogue, but the cast effectively gets the narrative across through songs delivered with powerful, clear voices. A six-piece band drives the score, rocking out “Jesus of Suburbia” and “American Idiot” and the more tender “Last Night on Earth” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
The casting is spot on. Johnny Shea plays Johnny, the aspiring rock star with ambitious energy, and then gives an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of his descent into addiction. Nathan David Smith nails Will’s frustrated boredom and apathy about becoming a father. Zummy Mohammed’s Tunny is determined, then broken by injury and death from the war. As St. Jimmy, John Alejandro Jeffords slithers around the stage, a nefarious drug pusher with a glam rock vibe.
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As Heather, Will’s pregnant girlfriend, Mia Massaro captures the disappointment and anger of having a baby with an uninterested father. As Johnny’s love Whatshername, Analise Rios joins in the drug use, but gets pushed to her limits when he won’t stop. Tunny’s nurse, Extraordinary Girl, was played with nurturing sympathy by Idan Bar.
An ensemble supports the main cast, dressed in a variety of punk looks designed by Jordan Jeffers. They rollick around the stage and set with abandon, gleefully flipping the audience the bird.
Hawk’s experience in the punk scene informed the set’s design. He collaborated with scenic designer Scott Cooper to create a stage based on a club in Berkeley, California, where Green Day and other punk bands played. There is a lot of scaffolding covered with stickers and flyers and graffiti.
Choreography by Deanna Dys with additional input from Mohammed incorporates moves straight out of a mosh pit, with a nod to crowd surfing.
The company performs “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” at curtain call. The title might sound cheeky, but the song has a lovely sentiment.
It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life.
If you go
“Green Day’s American Idiot.” Runs through Oct. 2. $45. 163 Third St. N. 727-823-7529. americanstage.org.