By Anthony Chase
Musical by Green Day, Billy Joe Armstrong & Michael Mayer presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY
American Idiot is a kind of dark, late-adolescent, post 9/11 sequel to Stand By Me. A group of disaffected boyhood friends, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, try to venture out into the world. Each takes a radically different, but ultimately self-defeating path.
The musical was developed from a 2004 concept album by the punk rock band, Green Day. The show debuted in California in 2009, and arrived on Broadway to great acclaim in 2010. It’s getting a highly engaging outing at American Repertory Theater on Amherst Street.
The driving music propels the story, and some familiarity with at least an outline of the plot will help the first time American Idiot viewer.
It’s simple. Johnny buys bus tickets, so he and his buds can abandon suburbia for the bright lights of the city. Before they get to the depot, Will learns that he has entanglements and stays home to become a coach potato, grousing at the woman who has ruined his already nowhere life. In the city, things don’t go well for the other two. Tunny can’t really connect with the city or maintain its pace and impetuously enlists in the military. Johnny discovers an adventurous free spirit called ‘Whatsername,’ and along with her, the world of drug addiction.
Under the direction of Matthew LaChiusa with music direction by Billy Horn, ART has conjured up a truly rocking rendition of American Idiot. Their new space on Amherst Street provides an appropriate no-frills fringe setting for this joyfully nihilistic musical.
The very economical production features a cast of ten, with Christopher Teal as Johnny; Jesse Ryan Tiebor as Will; and Jordan Levin as Tunny. There is excellent chemistry between them, and they sound great together. (A microphone problem in this tech-dependent show undermined the Act I harmonies on the night I attended, to such an extent that they might have considered pausing the show, but this was remedied after the intermission).
The always-appealing Sara Kow-Falcone gives a vivid portrayal of ‘Whatsername.’ Carolyn Lanson does well as Will’s girlfriend, Heather, as does Rosemarie Lorenti as ‘Extraordinary Girl’. Billy Horn, whose musical talent who also lead ART’s fine production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is excellent as ‘Saint Jimmy.’
Following in the steps of their previous productions of shows like Floyd Collins, First Lady Suite, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, this is an exceptional and highly enjoyable production from a theater that seems to specialize in intimate versions of quirkier, edgier musicals.