American Idiot Hits The Stage In Boston: Punk Rock Now Suitable For Framing In Your Mom’s Living Room

Wow, punk rock at the Boston Opera House.  It’s kinda like rebel cuisine at the Olive Garden!  Green Day’s “American Idiot” CD will stand the test of time, the musical based on its Bush-era screed will only be a passing curiosity.  Theatre kids will thrill to the f-bombs and guitar crunch, but anyone looking for some depth in this multi-media assault will be left sorely wanting.

So, in case you couldn’t keep up the first time around, Billie Joe Armstrong is ready to walk you through the ins and outs of his groundbreaking 2004 album.  Green Day’s mastermind realized long ago that punk rock success was an oxymoron.  Punks hate success, it’s the equivalent of selling out.  Wisely, Armstrong ignored that foolishness, and went on to write some of the hookiest, most progressive and topical rock music out there.  In the “American Idiot” CD he railed against a country consumed by new media and mixed messages.  It was presented in rock opera format, but did that make a Broadway musical version a necessary extension?  Armstrong and director Michael Mayer (who brought us the truly groundbreaking “Spring Awakening”) seem to think so.

Don’t get me wrong, the show looks great.  A huge wall of wide-screen monitors and industrial staircases.  In fact this is truly a wide-screen production, since its three central characters occupy stages left, right and center.  Johnny’s in the middle.  Played with fury and vulnerability by Van Hughes he’s the guy we’re supposed to identify with.  Turns out, he’s the personification of what the title tune says you don’t want to be … namely, an American idiot.  To his right and left are his best buds Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell), who share the same lost boy angst as Johnny.  So, in order to throw a rickety narrative on these three, Will gets locked down with his pregnant girlfriend, Johnny goes to the big city and Tunny goes to war.  And hillarity ensues!  Sorry, not really.

Basically what we get is a potty-mouthed “Glee” episode with drugs and simulated sex.  Ooooh, don’t you feel naughty?!  Too bad, because the songs are still pretty awesome.  “Jesus of Suburbia” .. “Holiday” .. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” .. plus some added material from Green Day’s follow-up to “American Idiot”, “21st Century Breakdown. ” We watch Johnny fall into the clutches of the drug-dealing “St. Jimmy” (Joshua Kobak) and fall in love, sort of, with a girl only known as “Whatsername” (Gabrielle McClinton).  Not to be snarkier than I already am but, when your lead female character doesn’t even have a proper name, it doesn’t bode well for complex character development.

One thing that does work, is a sequence designed specifically for the stage, in which Tunny is lured into joining the military.  We get a Jersey Shore-esque poser (Vince Oddo) who goes from his underwear to a military uniform accompanied by some smoking hot chorus girls in red, white and blue sequins.  Tunny (pictured above) is overwhelmed by the flash and flesh and signs on the dotted line.  It’s subtle as a train wreck and just as compelling.  More of that, please!

Since the show is only in town for a week, you have to make a quick call on whether you should scramble for tickets.  I say if you’re interested, by all means go.  The musical skills of the cast are unquestionable.  The band onstage is rock solid, with the exception of the irritating conductor intent on calling attention to himself.  Take a seat chucklehead.  It’s a great chance for people who hate the crush of rock shows to see a really good one, without getting a beer spilled down their back!

Back in the 90’s when “Dookie” was just breaking, Green Day played a show at Boston’s Hatch Shell that ended in a turf and bottle throwing melee.  Now that’s punk rock.  This show ends with a tacked on rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” .. you know, just so you leave the theatre singing a happy tune.

Nuff said.

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