Where to start when trying to review a show with no sense of identity or narrative? That was my immediate feeling when leaving the national tour of "American Idiot." I would call it a trainwreck, but it is clearly an idea that never left the station to begin with. But allow me to try to explain what the problems were.
This jukebox musical based on Green Day’s rock opera album of the same name spends much of the show trying to portray the anti-war, aimless youth storyline of the album. Of course rather than create a compelling book and interesting characters to fit into that tumultuous time period, "American Idiot" tries to overwhelm the audience with non-stop bombast and punk youth posturing without aim.
While this is a common problem with such musicals based on an artist’s music, this one should have been easier to create a storyline for as it had a loose one to begin with. The one the audience was given was a host of characters introduced as a group of dissatisfied youth who are given different choices and hurdles, none of which are ever properly explained or explored.
The main character, Johnny, moves to the "the city" and becomes a heroin and sex addict with very few positive traits for the audience to root for, while his friends stay home in a domestic trap or go off to the war in an effort to fight for the country they claim to love. Amongst these potentially strong storylines, Green Day’s admittedly great music was jammed carelessly into the show.
All of this could be overlooked as a glorified night of rock theatrics and strong singing, about which there was much to be excited. But even that could rarely be enjoyed as there were a number of things that offended and discouraged. The war was trivialized rather than railed against.
Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll were reveled in without the ruin that seemed to naturally go with Johnny’s progression, or lack thereof. And worst of all was a bizarre, shocking Arabian dancer scene that had me actually looking around the theatre to see if everyone else was offended as I was.
"American Idiot" was the rare show that I not only did not enjoy, but also wanted to demand that no one else go to see. As a musical theatre piece, it was offensive, badly written, and lazily arranged. I was fortunate enough to be a fan of Green Day’s music just enough to at least enjoy the frequently stellar singing. I doubt many others expecting a night of theatre will be able to find the same level of enjoyment.
"American Idiot" ran through Feb. 17 at the Merriam Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S Broad St. in Philadelphia. For info on future Kimmel Center shows, visit www.kimmelcenter.org/ For info or tickets for the international tour, visit http://www.americanidiotthemusical.com/.