In the course of my regular workday Pandora listening, I’d noticed the appearance of more frequent Green Day tracks than normal, and eventually found myself humming along to “Holiday” often enough that I bought the soundtrack. The weirdness of the story I made up to accompany the ensuing medleys was striking enough that I decided I wanted to see the show, and hauled Gigantor along for the ride.
American Idiot was one of those shows that is really enjoyable as you experience it, but when you think on it later, is lacking a lot of things one hopes for in a theatrical musical entertainment. I identified its heritage as very heavily Rent-based, Gigantor was as insistent that it was indebted to Hair… Also Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe and probably a few more for good measure…
The gist is, these three nearly nameless suburban guys are like SUPER OUTRAGED AND STUFF about Society and Corporate America and… something about a 7-11 parking lot? So they embark on the Genetic Young Man Go City-ward storyline, except for the one with the black hair (Michael Esper) who gets stuck with his pregnant girlfriend (Mary Faber, the only female character with a name). Once the two remaining boys hit the city, one is enraptured by walking the lonely roads, the other (Stark Sands) gets sold the American Lie and joins the military. And then there was one.
The last narrator standing meets St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent, aka the only really cool character/device in the show…a living embodiment of heroin with an emohawk and spiky studded jewelry), goes down the rabbithole, loses the love of a good woman (Rebecca Naomi Jones from Passing Strange) and eventually limps home to suburbia to rejoin his neighborhood pals, many of whom have drunk the corporate kool-aid.
During the show, I was rocking out to the 90s nostalgia of slacker flannel and the surprising and very enjoyable interpretive dance elements, and thinking that I didn’t mind the nonstop music medleys because it meant minimal awkward dialogue. I even went so far as to ponder Different Modes of Story Telling and What That Means for Broadway…
But then after the show…Gigantor’s lack of identification made me realize “Oh, Corporate America is stifling? You feel that way TOO?!?!”
What makes the show accessible is that this is essentially pop music. Pseudo-punky, alterna-rock pop, but still so first-person accessible that it has no point of view outside its suburban sulky white guy privilege. Pro: The vapid anger can be appropriated and channelled by anyone. Con: It’s WHINY and ANNOYING because these guys are posers, and they know it.
I will say for it that the somber closing, featuring a character asking “Is this the end or the beginning” proves that at least Billie Joe Armstrong knows he was a young jackass. That we were all young jackasses, and that no amount of self-entitled Damn The Man sentiment is going to give that experience meaning.
Rent was exciting because there had never been a musical that gave voice to the GLBT community, that grappled with the terror of AIDS, that tried to inhabit the grungy reality of Alphabet City back when it was nightmare-indusing. Hair was revolutionary because it was the voice of the anti-Vietnam flower children.
American Idiot is just giving a voice to the people who already have 96% of the voices. And it’s not even deigning to name them, or make them characters we remotely care about.
That said, the dancing was really unexpected and very special, and the cast sold it like whoa. Great singers, great set, great lighting. Just… a lackluster message if you’ve already accepted that being a grown-up means having a job, or have experienced the startling insight that “This is how I’m supposed to be” simply isn’t true if you’re a deadbeat dad drinking bongwater on the couch while your girlfriend leaves you.
Gawd, grow up.