Do you want to be an American idiot?
Well, neither does the cast of Green Day’s musical “American Idiot,” or so it seemed when they came to Chrysler Hall in Downtown Norfolk in late January.
The Chrysler hosts incredible show after show, and this was no exception. “American Idiot” hit the stage with force, appropriately starting with “American Idiot” and showcasing the entire company on stage at some point chiming into the anarchy inspired chaos.
What was more impressive than the singing or the brief bits of acting was the set itself, which completely stole the show. Most plays at the Chrysler in the past year have had intricate and breathtaking sets that enhance the shows overall. The stage length structure was complete with stairs, doors, windows and upwards of 20 television screens placed in within the walls. The screens flashed images and logos as the singing and dancing took place down below the spectacle. The images reinforced the lyrics as they buzzed by.
Though the effects were phenomenal, there was a slight disconnect in the integration of music into a comprehensive plot. The songs, all collected from various Green Day albums, usually connected to the very limited dialogue in between each number. The characters’ back-and-forth and asides acted more as introductions for each song, and less as an actual plot. It felt more like a concert with random talking than an actual play. Even so, it was definitely a sight to see and a powerful performance.
While all of the singing, dancing, lights and televisions play on stage, so does a great band, which is present for most of the musical. They slam away on the guitar and even on string instruments, which adds a nice touch, even though the onstage band is not a practical addition. However, without them, it wouldn’t have been as powerful. All of the components of the show added up to something great that was more than just a show; it was an experience, be it hard to follow or not.
The premise of the show is a group of pathless young adults trying to figure out what to do with their lives that have no direction. We follow Johnny, played by Alex Nee, Will, played by Thomas Hettrick, and Tunny, played by Casey O’Farrell. They start out bent on getting out of the “City of the Damned” and escaping the suburbia they seem to resent so much. All is well until Will’s girlfriend Heather, actress Kennedy Caughell, gets pregnant, forcing him to stay behind.
Johnny and Tunny make their way to the big city where they met St. Jimmy, a drug-pumped, grunge hero who acts as a symbol of everything Johnny wishes to be. They sing and praise St. Jimmy, especially after Tunny finds his calling, turning his back to their anti-government lifestyle and joining the military.
Johnny, abandoned and betrayed by his two best friends, takes comfort in St. Jimmy and, as a result, various drugs. But he also finds Whatshername, the unnamed female neighbor he falls in love with.
The plot, now separated into three locations (Will in suburbia, Tunny off to war and Johnny in the city) always seemed to connect on stage, especially with “Give Me Novacain,” one of the best numbers in the entire show. Despite any issues with story clarity or minimal acting efforts, this piece was phenomenal. While it started off a tad strange with a lengthy onstage sex scene, by the end of the number, the soldiers in Tunny’s platoon are on stage doing an incredible floor routine with lots of jumps and impressive passion. Most of the dancing in this show was very contemporary and involved a lot of abstract or unfamiliar movements, making it all the more captivating. Besides the stage, the dancing was really the centerpiece of the experience.
After this scene, we see the three men’s lives start to slowly fall apart and the climax start to form. Heather and Will are struggling after the baby is born. Tunny is injured in the war, though he has met an “Extraordinary Girl.” With St. Jimmy’s help, Johnny is slipping further and further into addiction and nothing seems to pull him out, not even Whatshername.
The show climaxes with “21 Guns,” where big decisions are made for many of the characters. Heather decides to “lay down her arms, give up the fight” and finally leaves Will, taking their child with her. Tunny struggles with the loss of his leg and takes comfort in his new girl. Johnny and Whatshername fight violently over his heroin addiction as St. Jimmy convinces him to leave her, a regret he holds onto long after he returns to being the “Jesus of Suburbia.”
A powerful female performance from the women of “American Idiot” takes place and we hear the last of Whatshername when she finally exits Johnny’s life, leaving him a vengeful mess. After St. Jimmy’s somewhat unexplained death, he pulls himself together and gets a mainstream desk job, but his move home is inevitable.
The three friends meet in suburbia with somewhat open arms, lots of stories and broken hearts, though you get the feeling it will all be okay in the end, as most stories end.
They close with “Whatshername,” a very powerful number that was performed beautifully with more exceptional dancing by the company and great lighting to match the intensity. Johnny speaks to us briefly about how much of an idiot he is and he doesn’t know whether this is just the start or the end. He leaves us with one final passage to sum up the experience that was Green Day’s “American Idiot:”
“This is my rage, this is my love, this is my town, this is my city, and this is my life.”