Saturday, April 26, 2014

'American Idiot' at the Palace Theatre: Review

Posted By on Sat, Apr 26, 2014 at 12:09 PM

We're coming up on the tenth anniversary of Green Day's American Idiot, a seminal pop-punk album to some degree that wrought a high-voltage charge through kids across the country who were listening to such stuff. In point of fact, though, the album is probably more relevant than ever today. Our brains are seemingly rewired to adapt to a society driven by visual stimuli and media, none of which actually furthers our understanding of the world around us. Rather, we're less connected to our loved ones and neighbors than ever before.

Anyway. At some point in the interim since Green Day dropped the album, a fine bunch of theater folks drafted it into a Broadway musical. The idea was at once odd and alluring. "American Idiot," the theatrical production, has been touring the country for years now. Cleveland gets a shot at the production this weekend. (Opening Night was Friday; the play wraps up Sunday night. Get your tickets fast.)

And as for the production itself, it's a pretty engaging piece of work. The stage was bejeweled with television monitors, which at times displayed haunting messages or ongoing loops of all manner of media (talking heads, war imagery, game shows, etc.; much of it culled from the mid-2000s, it seemed). The cast used the stage wonderfully, carving out distinct settings for the narrative and interacting intensely with the environs during the dances, which were well done.

The narrative, to be fairly general about it here, follows three beer-swilling teens as they grow up a bit and discover that the world is full of tough realities (war, unanticipated childbirth, heroin, pop-punk bands). W/r/t its efficacy as a transposition of Green Day's concept album, the story works well. The pace is fine, and there are great dynamics between the faster and slower tunes.

It's unclear *what* prompted much of the crowd to roll into downtown on a Friday night and spend greenbacks on this thing, though. Even after a long night of "sleeping on it," it's tough to come up with a projected audience for "American Idiot." The Playhouse Square crowd? Dubious. The "youth"? Eh, maybe, but for the cost of a single ticket. Twenty-somethings who plucked the album from the pop-music tree as it ripened 10 years ago? Probably, but, speaking on behalf of that precise demographic, it's tough not to be jaded by this piece of theater.

Despite the plot's soundness, there's something a bit woefully tongue-in-cheek about the narrative here. Sometimes, being a rebellious teen in the suburbs doesn't demand an operatic sweep of destiny to bring you and your buddies to the brink of a) collapse b) death c) ecstasy d) whatever. Sometimes it just demands a bong and a steady stream of Futurama episodes. And there's nothing wrong with that.

(...One of the dancers was a dead ringer for Billy Joel Armstrong, which was visually arresting. This guy maybe should have had a more prominent role?)

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