Ah the American Dream. Does it really exist? (Or is it simply an unattainable carrot on the proverbial stick: read scam?) Whether a slave to society, gofer for the government, adherent to ego and addiction, it is all somewhat and in part, a little silly when one truly sits down and thinks about it.
It is a crowded evening at the Met Theatre in Hollywood to a completely sold out house. Actors’ headshots and short publicity videos rearrange themselves and blare respectively on the venue’s new and nifty electronic promo marquis taking place of the rustic and traditional ol’ cork board. (And I am truly in awe as this is the first of such mechanisms I have ever beheld the theatre world over!) Suddenly and without warning, a decidedly Guy Fawkesian visage (in the form of an Anonymous-masked actor) makes itself dangerously clear and present on the heretofore happily advertent headshot exhibit. It divulges something about an Amber Alert(?) of all things but it is difficult to deduce as the rest of the American Ignorers the lobby over do not seem to care to stop and heed the non-warning.
Once inside the cavernous back bleacher area, the beckoning backdrops doubling as walls boast seriously disturbing images of jacked-up Disney/Cartoon characters participating in embraces with Grateful Deadesque skeletons, and the all-too famous and graffitied silhouetted guy on the cell phone’s (assumed brother?) getting shocked by lightning bolts or the symbolic buzzing of electricity floating around the lot of us as American denizens so addicted to our electronic devices. But it does not stop there as there are Youtube and Gmail logos emblazoned into the screens of ol’ school TVs (though the computer and television really are one in the same these days), an image of a shower-stall clad Janet Leigh screaming at Anthony Perkins in the American Classic Psycho (when really she is screaming at us to be sure), George Bush inadvertently (or vertently—a word he would have made up no doubt) giving us the middle finger in the middle of a White House speech, and last but not least, a spray paint relief of Lady Liberty herself wielding a heart-shaped red grenade (the musical’s logo) rather than tell-tale torch!
The rock opera pre-opens with more Anonymous-masked admonishments on a screen as tall and wide as the stage itself!—this time to more dire and foreboding caveats:
We are informed that all text messaging will be scrambled should we deign to do so during the show (or “Smiley’s speech perhaps?—MY term for the Guy Fawkes-faced Informer). “If you take pictures, we will find you,” Smiley continues, but alas nothing is mentioned as to what will be done to us once found… The exits, are also clearly indicated, “in case of an apocalypse!” And then…true Hell descends upon us. “You’re doin’ a heck of a job there Brownie,” comes George Dubya’s reedy voice from the gargantuan screen and I nearly duck for cover and try heroically to get through this clip and the traumatic memories it provokes. We are then not saved from this as Martha Stewart pre-pokey (or is it post-pokey) rears her she-Devilish demeanor in some sort of mindless morning show interview. At this point really, our only salvation is the start of the unveiling of the futility of striving in this country for anything other than dominion over our own entertainment in wait of this postmodern punk, post grunge alternative American Anti-Love fest!
And finally, the opening chords of American Idiot sound, persisting into the actual song and it is weird not hearing Billie Joe Armstrong participating in said ritual, but only for about the first two verses—then everything falls into place!
The rock opera centers around three young suburban male friends all intent on departing the domestic Hell that is their mundane pathos—a path(os) partaken by their previously optimistic parents no doubt in pursuit of their own American “pleasure”.
Johnny, Tunny, and Will who heretofore made social nights of it by drinking brews in front of the local 7-11 all plan to jettison their lifestyle in order to adopt a well…probably similar existence—but in the big bad city! Once the baby bomb in this march for maturity materializes, it is Will who will have to sacrifice metropolis for his continued stay in Subpar subparadise with the likes of his girlfriend—(and would most likely be making an imminent appearance on a “Baby Daddy” episode Maury Povich show should he refuse.)
Johnny and Tunny traverse as planned only to have their dreams trip them up via an unexpected jerking of the leg as they try and sink deeper into blissful sleep, but to no avail as Johnny then sleeps instead with a girl he calls “Whatshername” and becomes a drug addict/dealer. Tunny, having lost the battle in his struggle to navigate urban existence, embarks for a non-existent battle—not his own (or anybody’s really as there were never any weapons of mass destruction and we had already been shown the “combat operations have ended” video before the performance. But there you have it…)
The three boys-turned-fearful men are only aided in their misguided decisions by music and friendship. And even that falls by the wayside in their drugged out, romantically argumentative, and combat ridden, limb losing post high school happenstance.
A fairly basic plot (though I’ll not quite divulge anything that transpires past the basic, above set up), but with songs as colorful, harrowing and aptly titled as the libretto’s, it’s more or less six to one, half dozen of the other. Even still, I am of the opinion that you can have both so I really wish Michael Mayer and Billie Joe Armstrong had delved a little deeper in to the overall arc of the tale and can’t help but wonder what Douglas Coupland (Gen-X author though he was) might have done with such a storied generation and its traumas.
Aside from all this, the music is the true and exacting force of the extravaganza! Encompassing titles that sound like Hollywood sleeper magic can’t be beat, commencing with American Idiot itself and its almost kitschy, angry, pragmatic intonation! Jesus of Suburbia is a second favorite (and a possible allusion to being crucified on the 7-11 sign in the local strip mall parking lot should one not escape?). Other favorites?: Favorite Son—regarding Tunny’s journey off to war—ironic no doubt as last I checked, favorite sons don’t get nearly sacrificed in bogus battles—self crucifying in a different manner?, Last Night on Earth, (before the hypocralips?) Before the Lobotomy (can’t remember what this one’s about, but still an arresting title nonetheless!), 21 Guns, and Letter Bomb. Wake me up when September Ends, is foreshadowed utilizing the not-too-beat-over the head yet significant date of tenth of said month as the day Johnny writes another letter to his mother. (December 7th will also be mentioned when he later writes a letter to “Dear Dad or God or whoever…”) Oh and Whatshername, the anonymous girl with whom Johnny is so smitten, there is a song written about her using well…not her name as the title! All in all a marvelous use of melody and wordsmithery in most, if not all, tunage!
Concerning the concept of the Musical itself and my take away: No semblance of following the American Dream will make you happy in and of itself. It’s all so much posturing unless there is something meaningful as in the concept of home (not to be confused with homeland) and friendship (not to be interchanged with comradeship). And if you work really hard at not making work the most important thing…why, you might actually just have something!
All in all, an exceedingly polished and kickass production! There were a few missed notes in certain instances but one senses it was merely from fatigue more than anything as it is such a high octane opera to begin with!
Jess Ford as Johnny is edgy and sympathetic. Chris Kerrigan is elegantly hulking and kickass as Tunny, and the beautiful-eyed Wesley Moran is soulful and sincerely troubled in the most sympathetic of ways as Will. Whatshername, played by Renee Cohen is unforgettable by her powerful voice alone and if Johnny had any sense he would never have forgotten her name based on this very thing or at least once she became famous. (At the very least, he could have tried calling her “Delores”—Seinfeld Style!—Geez!) And lest we forget another singular, yet nameless female character by way of the Extraordinary Girl, played in most flashy, athletic fashion by Cassandra Nuss. It is this character who appears to Tunny as a hallucination in glitter and gold floating in over the military infirmary on silks. Tunny only later discovers that she is actually his land-hugging nurse and is in love with her all the same! St. Jimmy as portrayed by Andrew Diego is harrowingly addictive and haunting to behold, and Alex Allen as Gerard is just good in everything in which I have so far seen him. Above and beyond that, kudos to the entire cast! Oh and of course, the direction, and musicianship of the band is, as always, as majestic as the American Flag, Mom and American-Apple Pie, minus the meaningless American Dream and any stories about that “one time at band camp”–oy!
Doma’s American Idiot runs at the Met Theatre until July 26th.
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