Much has been said about Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s shocking meltdown at the I Heart Radio Musical Festival last fall in addition to his rehab stint for alcoholism and addiction, but his raw musical genius is of utmost importance in this context. After all, Green Day’s bold, provocative “American Idiot,” a 2010 Tony Award nominee for Best Musical expertly derived from the band’s profound 2004 Grammy-winning album of the same name, has arrived at the Victoria Theatre with astounding electricity rivaling the Broadway production.
Helmed and co-adapted by Michael Mayer – who astonishingly did not receive a Tony nomination for his brilliant stagecraft fluidly accented by Steven Hoggett’s vigorous choreography – “American Idiot” is a non-stop, 90-minute kick in the gut depicting post-911 America, particularly the George W. Bush administration, as a well of political lies within a sea of media overkill, an image superbly presented as the curtain slowly rises on an eye-catching multitude of television sets before the pulsating title number fittingly sets the rock concert tone of the evening. Armstrong’s terrifically blunt and poignant songs, co-written with band mates Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool and including tunes from the band’s 2009 Grammy-winning “21st Century Breakdown,” exhilarates and educates with overwhelming energy and attitude as “the land of make believe who don’t believe in me” takes its toll on the youth of Jingletown U.S.A., particularly three close-knit friends longing for purpose despite deep disillusionment stirring within their suburban hell consumed by “signs leading to nowhere.” The angst-filled, in-your-face numbers, presented with impeccably smooth transitions, are distinctively Green Day, especially lively anthems such as “Holiday” and “Know Your Enemy,” but certain passages delightfully recall Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” (“I Don’t Care”), Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” (“Before the Lobotomy”) and the Beatles (“Last Night on Earth”).
Alex Nee, charming, funny and touching, excellently leads the uniformly outstanding cast as Johnny (a.k.a. Jesus of Suburbia), the product of a broken home scarred by the memories of a parent who constantly killed his self-worth. Nee typifies the desperation of a suffocated suburban kid hoping for something better on the outside. The endearing Thomas Hettrick is a fine Tunny, who joins Johnny on a spirited adventure only to become fixated on a handsome celebrity figure (“Favorite Son”) that encourages him to join the military with heartbreaking results. Casey O’Farrell wonderfully completes the trio as the homebound Will, who suffers “Too Much Too Soon” with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (the humorous Kennedy Caughell).
Elsewhere, Trent Saunders thrills as the scarily intense St. Jimmy, Johnny’s drug dealer. Alyssa DiPalma properly supplies sass and tenderness as Whastername, Johnny’s love interest. As the Extraordinary Girl, the lovely Jenna Rubaii joins Hettrick for a beautifully exquisite aerial ballet during the evocative “Extraordinary Girl.” Jared Young, Carson Higgins, Aurie Ceylon, and Daniel C. Jackson are very effective in featured roles.
Unfortunately, the only drawback to this splendid showcase, which includes Christine Jones’ Tony-winning set design and Kevin Adams’ Tony-winning lighting design, is the Victoria itself. The show, specifically its towering sound equipment, is simply too large for the stage, leaving poor sightlines for practically anyone sitting in the right orchestra.
Nonetheless, like “Hair,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Who’s Tommy,” Green Day’s “American Idiot” firmly stands as another mesmerizing, thought-provoking testament to the powerful influence of rock music in the musical theater universe.
Green Day’s “American Idiot,” presented in 90 minutes without intermission, continues Wednesday, March 13 and Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton. Tickets are $46-$67. Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com. Patrons are advised the show is recommended for ages 17 and up and includes strong language and adult themes.
Here is an audience reaction, courtesy of Victoria Theatre Association