Rarely am I this surprised by a show, especially one I've already heard. But last night I had to completely change my tune over Green Day's "American Idiot", currently playing at the Paramount Theatre. Filled with stunning performances, inventive staging and poetic songs the show went from one I was mildly curious about to breathtaking evening.
Based on Green Day's concept album rock opera of the same name, the show centers on three idealistic friends; Johnny, Will and Tunny (Van Hughes, Jake Epstein and Scott J. Campbell) as they emerge into their 20's in a post 9/11 world and have to face their own stark realities. Each of them long for more than their suburban lives can give them and look to bust out into the big city but only Johnny and Tunny make it out as Will chooses to stay home with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Leslie McDonel). And while Will deals with the trials of Fatherhood, Tunny joins the military and is sent off to war leaving Johnny in the city with no one to turn to. Ultimately he finds comfort in the arms of "Whatshername" (Gabrielle McClinton) and in the drugs of local dealer St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak).
I've never been a fan of Green Day. Nothing against them just not a lot of exposure although maybe I should change that. The songs (from the show at least) have a wonderful musical theater and storytelling structure to them and are poetically beautiful. And not all high-energy rock either as there are some lovely and haunting ballads included. And the story, while not the most original, is told with tons of heart and intensity.
The cast is nothing short of spectacular and boy are they working hard up there. With amazing voices on all of them, they run, leap, dance, and rock about the stage as if it were on fire but with sincere intention and focus. Hughes takes the sympathetic anti-hero to a new level. Epstein manages to make a bit of a slacker likable. And Campbell turns in some heartbreaking moments especially in his hospital scene with some gorgeously choreographed aerial work that could teach a thing of two to the folks at Spider Man. Kobak owns the stage with every appearance of St. Jimmy and McClinton has some lovely moments as "Whatshername". And I also want to give a special shout out to Talia Aaron from the ensemble who had a few amazing solo moments throughout the show. She has some incredible pipes on her and managed to give me chills several times with her voice that could invade a person's soul.
Director and co-book writer Michael Mayer along with Billie Joe Armstrong have taken this rock opera beyond the album and placed it up there with the likes of The Who's "Tommy" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall". For Green Day fans, well I'm sure you already know how amazing it is and have your tickets. But for you theater lovers who may be on the fence about this one, you won't be disappointed and may even come away as surprised and impressed as I.
"American Idiot" plays at the Paramount Theatre through June 10th. For tickets or information contact Seattle Theatre Group at 877-STG-4TIX (877-784-4849) or visit them online at www.stgpresents.org.
Photo credit: Doug Hamilton