Films/Theater Reviews — 01 October 2010
American Idiots Unite: Armstrong Rules Broadway

If you thought the crowd response was deafening when the PA announcer said “in tonight’s performance, playing the role of ‘St. Jimmy’ will be Billie Joe Armstrong,” then the first live appearance of the tattooed rocker fifteen minutes into Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway is borderline indescribable.  The St. James Theatre on 44th Street near 8th Avenue featured a loyal and avid group of fans lining the street over an hour before show time.  After the announcement earlier this week that the Green Day vocalist himself would be starring in the band’s inspired musical, immediately secured some seats for one of the only week long appearances by the mainstream rocker in the show.  We had anticipated going for quite some time, but Armstrong’s appearance made the tickets a must-have and we strongly urge you to follow suit and see this show.

The show begins incredibly strong, with three of the best tracks from the “American Idiot” album (the title track, Jesus of Suburbia, & Holiday), and the three male leads, do an incredibly believable job of doing Green Day justice.  John Gallagher Jr. (Johnny), Michael Esper (Will), and Stark Sands (Tunny) were so terrific in fact, that we just had to mention them by name.  And watching the talented cast perform AND play guitar was both inspiring and captivating.  While the show moves along, we recognize that the dialogue is minimal and that the back story itself is relatively tough to follow.  It essentially only serves to compliment the ordered arrangement of Green Day tunes.  As best we can tell, the show follows a group of three friends with big dreams, but slowly become disenchanted youths as things fall apart for each of them differently.  Each is brought down by a legitimate and pressing present day circumstance, characterized and played out through Green Day’s music.  But the Broadway show is less about the story and more about the sizzle.  And American Idiot sure does sizzle.

Audience members young and old can be seen bobbing their heads, while the energetic cast excitedly jumps around on stage in a choreographed dance frenzy.  We would be remiss not to mention the phenomenal job the show did in casting- each performer was not only completely believable, but relatable.  We all have a friend or group of friends that need to jump around like a band on stage when certain rock songs are played- and the three male leads play it perfectly- like a group of best friends at a great house party.

And Armstrong’s appearance in the show, which lasts through Sunday, 10/3, only validates his stellar reputation as a performer and a tremendous showman.  His vocals on his own songs, boomed throughout the theatre, out-shining even the most capable of the cast performers.  But the remainder of the cast filled the less prominent roles admirably, and the ensemble clearly showed no weak links, which can’t always be said about Broadway musicals.

The show progressed through the “American Idiot” album, hitting hard on singles like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” before touching on tracks like “21 Guns” and “Know Your Enemy,” from Green Day’s more recent “21st Century Breakdown” album.  The tempo started incredibly quickly before slowing down with some heartfelt ballads, and picking back up into the fist pounding conclusion.  The language in the show is definitely adult as is some of the content (simulated sex, for one), so be sure to keep that in mind. In other words, if you are easily offended, I think Cats is still playing over at the Winter Garden Theatre.

The highlight of the show by far occurred after the curtains closed- the first time on the entire cast, then again on the cast arm-in-arm, taking bows to a standing ovation.  The curtains raised once more to reveal all 19 cast members holding separate acoustic guitars, with Billie Joe Armstrong leading both them and the vocal audience in a stirring rendition of Green Day’s most famous ballad, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” which was absolutely incredible.  American Idiot on Broadway was an electrifying and an especially fun show to witness, and if you have the chance to get tickets to this weekend’s performances featuring Armstrong, we highly recommend that you do so.  American Idiot is something unpredictable.  I guess in the end it’s right.  We can guarantee that you’ll pretty much have the time of your life.  What, too cliche?

- Jane Van Arsdale

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