Green Day’s American Idiot finally hits Broadway

Two thousand and eighteen days ago (that’s right, got my calculator right here), CD stores, major retailers, and Hot Topics the world over fattened their shelves with copies of what would in a matter of days become one of the most successful rock operas in history. As Reprise Records wetted their lips in eager anticipation of the torrential profits this 60-minute popcult anthem would soon bring them, hipsters from San Francisco to New York to London writhed in frustration watching hundreds of thousands of teenagers the world over eagerly peel open their very own copies, freshly bought with saved allowances and Winn Dixie store paychecks, and slide them into their CD players to blast forth in naïve rebellion what they felt was the call-to-arms of their apathy-stricken generation.

Over five long years have passed since Green Day’s monumentally popular pop culture phenomenon-to-be American Idiot hit the shelves. In no time at all, this ambitious hour-long rock opera slayed the hearts of adoring fans, earning the established punk group a Grammy and massive mainstream critical acclaim. Now this record, courtesy of the work of director and longtime Green Day fan Michael Mayer, is finally receiving all the gaud and pomp Broadway stands to offer, and all of which the band (and perhaps the vast majority of the rest of the world) seems to believe they deserve. Scheduled for opening on April 20th, American Idiot – The Musical is arriving at a theater near you just in time to ride the wake of the California band’s latest headline-inducing LP 21st Century Breakdown, or rather that of the unimpressive singles “21 Guns” and “Know Your Enemy” off this fuddled, torturously long record.

The narrative behind American Idiot, often hailed as “The Who’s Tommy” for the disaffected youth of Generation Y, spun a story that was non-directional, yet potent and deliberate. Loosely following the stories of its original characters Jesus of Suburbia and St. Jimmy, the album focuses more on airing the grievances of the generic 90’s-era poster child than conveying an intact story with any concision. The 9-minute long epic “Jesus of Suburbia,” playing out instrumentally like punk 101 with major chord riffage and obstinate adherence to meter, delivers the lofty musings of the protagonist as he watches TV, shoots up on coke, and generally displays his passive apathy for the world as a whole in situations as casual as reading bathroom graffiti at the shopping mall. The “holy scriptures” there on the wall seem to confirm to this Jesus figure that “the center of the earth is the end of the world” to which he admits he “could really care less” with the eloquence of a Hallmark card. The protagonist in this narrative, through lines like the former and “There’s nothing wrong with me/ This is how I’m supposed to be/ In the land of make-believe/ That don’t believe in me” in the song’s chorus, becomes less unique by the second, revealing himself as less any distinct individual and more a blanket concept intended to appeal to massive crowds of adoring youngsters with loose pockets.

Perhaps, however, we are to assume that all this vapid teen appeal is part of the aesthetic, that this vaguely broad narrative has intrinsic value in its capturing of Bush-era disenchantment and virility. Taken as an elaborate blueprint of the “everyday child” of suburbia, the album can be seen as stark depiction of the state of youth, barely sustained on “Soda pop and Ritalin.” In a day where the headlines on the local news conveyed little more than the foolhardy decisions and wars of empowered, yet infinitely distant governing figures, these scarcely politically-literate children looked forward to an imminent uprising, perhaps at the hand of a valiant rebel the likes of St. Jimmy, ready to drive a “needle in the vein of establishment.” Even if the songs are about as unimaginative and generic as punk rock can muster up, American Idiot was far from a compositional disaster turned champion by its accessibility and broad appeal. The message was crystal-clear, unfortunately due to its juvenility and turgid simplicity more than its concision, making for a 60-minute rock opera that was scarcely boring given you were willing to hang up common sense and logic to put yourself in the laced-up Vans of a 15 year-old scene-ster again.

Now the album is set to be invigorated by a stage production the likes of which it seems it was always cut out for. Director Mayer asserts that he wants to place the “emotional journey” on the record at the forefront, allowing the songs themselves to unfurl the story and keeping excessive dialogue, or “extraneous words,” in the words of Mayer himself, off of the stage floor. Of course, with a 60-minute rock opera as the vertebral column of this theater production, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Mr. Mayer. The final play clocks in around 95 minutes, encompassing every one of the album’s 13 tracks.

The musical focuses around the urban lives of best friends Johnny, Tunny, and Will, whose dramatized lives, as their characters develop around the pitfalls and dead-ends of their everyday lives, begin to resemble the trio behind Green Day, frontman Billy Joe Armstrong, drummer Tre Cool, and bassist Mike Dirnt more and more by the second. Armstrong asserted that they wrote the album about “exactly where they were in their lives,” but whether the similarities in the musical are intentional or a product of their setting remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the thematic aspect of American Idiot seems to be intact in the Broadway rendition. The feelings of uselessness and purgatory are all intact and now they’ve got living, breathing actors to harbor and convey them to eager audiences. A scene between protagonist Johnny and Whatsername, the lover romanticized in the song by the same name, depicts the two injecting heroin in a scene described by bassist Dirnt as “one of the most beautiful and evocative shapes I’ve ever seen.” Perhaps there is an aesthetic somewhere deep in all the indignation and immaturity that’s so easy for mature audiences to simply resent. Angst-laden teens and youngsters-at-heart, eat your bleeding hearts out, as it seems this production will undoubtedly be resplendent with all the excessive emotionality, drugged-out malaise, and sophomoric melodrama I know you can’t get enough of.

by Mason “born-again Hot Topic dumbass” McGough

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1 Comment

  1. American Idiot hits Broadway soon – See what it’s all about! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] American Idiot – The Musical, by Mason McGough […]

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