American Idiot - more than a Green Day concertJune 6, 2012 @ 12:15 pm
Broadway has seen its share of rock musicals over the years - Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent. And more recently, there's been a spate of successful "jukebox" musicals, like Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, Million Dollar Quartet.
"American Idiot," based on songs by the Bay Area punk group Green Day, is more the former than the latter, since the show is primarily built from a "concept" album. Green Day's singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong says, from the beginning, his American Idiot album was conceived with a narrative arc in mind, a narrative that the stage musical picks up on and expands.
The story, such as it is, revolves around three best friends who find themselves bored, aimless, and resentful of their dead-end lives in suburbia. They resent society's media overload, the sensory bombardment that comes at them from all corners, threatening to turn them all into idiots ...
Don't wanna be an American Idiot.
Don't want a nation under the new media.
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal mindf*** of America.
The show's set design drives home this point with over 30 TV screens, big and small, flashing montages of the famous and the infamous, of politicians and celebrities, of commercials and war footage.
The three friends eventually go their separate ways - one is stuck home taking care of an unplanned baby, another joins the military and goes to Iraq, and a third heads down the rabbit hole of drugs, sex and more drugs.
The almost entirely dialogue-free show relies heavily on the song lyrics but the way the show is staged goes a long way toward underscoring the point of each song.
The question is ... does this musical play any differently than a Green Day concert? In small ways, yes. And sometimes in a big way, as with the dramatically climactic song "21 Guns."
Do you know what's worth fighting for?
When it's not worth dying for?
Does it take your breath away
And you feel yourself suffocating?
Does the pain weigh out the pride?
And you look for a place to hide?
Did someone break your heart inside?
You're in ruins.
Rather than having a single male voice singing the above lyrics,
the musical uses a trio of female voices. A nurse sings to a wounded soldier, a young mother sings to her baby's estranged father, and a one-time girlfriend sings to her drug-addled former boyfriend. And then the men respond in kind.
It's one of the highlights of the show and offers us something Armstrong simply can't do alone. It's true that the female voices and the heavy use of strings rob the music of some of the propulsive power of a traditional rock anthem. But what the song loses is more than made up for by expanding its context and extending its range of emotions.
It's numbers like "21 Guns," rather than solos like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," that justify the existence of "American Idiot," the Musical.
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