"American Idiot" at the St. James Theatre, September 12, 2010
Green Day comes to Broadway with this staging based on their 2004 album of the same title, broadening the original concept into a story of three friends, Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.), Will (Michael Esper) and Tunny (Start Sands) who plan to abandon their small-town, suburban upbringing for the bright lights of the big city. Will gets shot down before the trip begins when he learns his girlfriend is pregnant. Johnny and Tunny make the trek, but Tunny joins the military in the aftermath of September 11 and ends up in Iraq. Johnny falls victim to the lure of drugs under the spell of his dealer, St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent).
Each in their own way become the American Idiot they so much long to avoid, by the poor choices they make in their lives. Will's marriage disintegrates before his eyes as he refuses to grow up and accept the responsibility he's put upon himself to raise a family. Tunny, severely wounded in a roadside bombing, falls for a military nurse. An aerial effect works nicely to convey the drug-induced dream sequence as he recovers from his injury. Johnny falls in love with the oddly described Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones) only to fall more seriously under his own drug addiction.
In the end, all three end up back in their small town to heal their wounds and try to figure out how to grow up.
Mr. Gallagher gives his role much more than the script does, a testament to his talent. Mr. Esper's Will has the least to do of the three, other than sit on the couch and crack open another beer. Mr. Sands finds a nice humanity in his character's conflicted spirit. Mr. Vincent's St. Jimmy, a cross between the devil and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang slinks about and vamps it up for everything he's worth - a relative highlight of the evening.
Director Michael Mayer, well-acquainted with the rock musical concept keeps things moving, but has little to work with from his own thinly drafted book. Steven Hoggett's "choreography" looks more like a suburban "broadway bound" beginner dance class.
The band is terrific, however, and the voices and visuals are good. It's anything but a traditional musical, but it could stand a few more characteristics of one to strengthen the storytelling.