Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Theater Review: American Idiot -- The Bushnell

Jenna Rubaii and Thomas Hettrick. Photo: John Daughtry
The Music Comes Through Loud and Clear; The Story, Not So Much
By Lauren Yarger
A group of friends, loud music, drugs, sex, war and rebellion against parental authority. If you’re thinking Spring Awakening or Hair, you’re close, but just a generation or two off. This one is American Idiot, a Punk Rock musical featuring songs from Green Day and making a tour stop at the Bushnell.

Green Day’s vocalist/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and Director Michael Meyer (who also directed Spring Awakening) penned the book (Armstrong also writes the lyrics) around the songs from the band's popular concept album “American Idiot” and some of its other works including “21st Century Breakdown.”

In post 9/11 America, Johnny (Alex Nee) is fed up with his parents and life in the suburbs.

"I'm the son of rage and love. The Jesus of Suburbia, from the bible of none of the above, on a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin..." he sings.

He and friends Will (dreamy-voiced Casey O’Farrell) and Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) decide to leave, but Will stays behind when he discovers his girlfriend, Heather (Kennedy Caughell), is pregnant. Tunny joins the military and Johnny goes off to the city where he experiences sex with Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) and drugs with St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders), a sort of anti-Christ to Johnny’s Jesus of Suburbia.

Tunny, injured in the fighting, fantasizes about The Extraordinary Girl (Jenna Rubaii) who hovers above his hospital bed in a burka and joins him for some imaginative flying theatrics. Meanwhile, a new baby places strain on Will and Heather’s relationship ("Too Much, Too Soon"). Drugs take hold of Johnny’s life and ruin his relationship with Whatsername. The reflective “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is one of the few songs that breaks up the pounding rock beat of the music.

Disillusioned, Johnny realizes that he has proved his stepfather wrong. The boy has amounted to nothing after all. He fights his addiction and returns home to suburbia in a redemptive message that you won't really find in Hair or Spring Awakening...

While all of that story was clear in the Broadway production (which won Tony Awards for Set and lighting designers Christine Jones and Kevin Adams), it gets lost here amidst the onslaught of flashing lights, a backdrop housing many video monitors and moving video projections (Darrel Maloney, design), sharp, robust choreography that propels the large ensemble around and on top of the set and loud music arranged and orchestrated by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal). Most of the audience comments I heard on the way out were about there not being much of a story. 

The Punk Rock and subject matter (with strong language throughout) won’t be for everyone. Some people, most with younger children, left about 20 minutes into the production with a few others heading out later – probably when they realized there wasn’t going to be an intermission (it’s a 90-minute one-act.) Also offensive is the fact that the women characters all have no apparent purpose in the story except to be sexual partners of the more fully developed male characters (two of the women don’t even get real names). The vocals are strong, however, and Green Day and “American Idiot” fans will enjoy the music.

American Idiot plays through March 3at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are; Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets $20-$82 (860) 987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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