Green Day’s American Idiot
Theatre Cedar Rapids — through July 23
American Idiot is an ambitious show — a rock musical, with a script I’ll address later, that is a non-stop belt-fest of powerful anthems and wistful ballads that all share a persistent, percussive angst. This show is more concept album than play and requires boundless energy and a thoroughly in-sync cast and crew to pull it off. This is not a show with pretty songs and expository dialogue. There is nothing to cling to. Only raw vocal talent and a kind of focused need power this show. TCR brought both in spades this weekend.
David Wasserman as Will, Rizwan Sidhu as Johnny and Joshua Payne as Tunny are unbelievably talented and kill it in the lead roles, each with his own unique vocal style and physical panache. I must admit I had no idea what their characters’ names were till I looked in the program, because they’re mentioned so rarely throughout the whole thing. Although, given the fluid nature of the play, this namelessness allowed the three to veer into more metaphorical territory. Through them we feel the boring comfort of home, the seduction of selfish adventure and the pride of answering the call to duty in a very interesting way; these different young men become all youth in a time filled with uncertainty and rage and apathy.
The set and choreography highlight this metaphorical separation of spirit. The ensemble moves almost as one, until they blast away from each other in spirited and nearly violent arrangements. They’re lit by concert-grade lights and TVs that flash either one image in unison, or such wildly conflicting messages that your head snaps from screen to screen trying to catch it all. The inundation of so many contrasting views, and so much political noise on the screens, finds its way into your subconscious, making you restless, illustrating the sinister division that such a calculated barrage of tainted media brings about.
Somewhat predictably, the love interests of these young men are, in one way or another, their way back to themselves. Sydney Elliot as Whatsername is sexy and powerful, with a silky, smoky voice that I could listen to for hours. Even though she happily participates in Johnny’s escapism early on, she eventually leaves him for refusing to grow out of it. It is this loss that sends him home. Erin Helm, as the Extraordinary Girl, is the picture of healing and hope that brings Tunny back from the war. Although the dream scene has some moments that could be smoothed over, Helm’s dancing is quite pretty and the chemistry between her and Josh Payne is either very real or very well acted. Becca Hauschild, with a haunting soprano, breaks my heart as Heather, refusing to stay with Will out of obligation, despite the fact that they’ve had a baby. And it’s hard to blame her, because he, outside of his angry, gorgeous and raw musical numbers, somewhat ceases to be. After he decides to stay, I don’t think you see him anywhere besides that couch, at any point, until his friends come back.
At least, I think that’s what happened. The script is, well, thin. Told you I’d come back to it. Drugs? Check. Sex? Check. Rock n’ roll? So many checks. All things that I totally love. And yet. American Idiot, despite the stellar cast and clear vision of this directorial team, just kind of makes me crazy. We have these clearly amazing singers running around the stage from song to song, leaping into them with often little to no indication of why this song is next in line or how it ties in to the vague plot line running behind the songs. And this show is my era. These kids are me, and everything me and my band of misfits were, at that age. I desperately want to care about them. But I have no idea who is who or what exactly is happening most of the time. I can feel the stakes and how high they are from their passionate delivery of these bad ass songs. But I don’t know what they are so passionate about because there is no beginning, middle, or end.
I want IN. I want to root for them, I want to see if they succeed or fail. But what are they even going for? It seems like getting out of the ’burbs is their goal at the beginning, but they do that within the first couple of songs. And I say songs, not scenes, because there are no clear delineations between beats, save song breaks. The script just makes it impossible to connect for me. I was actually thrilled that I’d seen this show before because I might have thought huge chunks of dialogue were skipped, if I hadn’t already been through this acid-trip like mishmash of operatic madness.
Luckily the performances Friday night were so on point that the crowd literally leapt into a standing ovation before the curtain call was even fully underway. It is a wild ride, filled with the kind of language and hand gestures guaranteed to appall the high-brow types who don’t understand why kids listen to that darned punk music. Its wandering exuberance will delight theatre-goers with a love of rock concerts and slam poetry readings. And its edgy and progressive set is worthy of its Broadway predecessors. Basically, buckle up: This is not your average musical.
American Idiot runs through July 23 at Theatre Cedar Rapids, with shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 10 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $26–36, with special deals available on the TCR Facebook page (including a code for half-off tickets through today, July 5).