Sunday, May 02, 2010

American Idiot (The SOB Review)

American Idiot (The SOB Review) – St. James Theatre, New York, New York

*1/2 (out of ****)

Spectacular staging, adrenaline-pumping choreography, mesmerizing projection design (among a host of other truly impressive design elements), energized cast and an electrifying and often intriguing score should all add up to American Idiot taking its place among the year’s top musicals.

Yet with no intelligible book to deliver a galvanizing plot, the tuner -- based primarily on a platinum 2004 recording by pseudo-punk rockers Green Day -- loses its focus, as well as its way. And there’s nothing worse than being overcome with boredom thanks to youth disaffected for its own sake.

That this has been billed as the Great White Way’s first punk rock musical is wrong on so many levels, not the least of which is that the true spirit of punk would surely view Broadway as the antithesis of the specifically antiestablishment art form. It’s a complete sell-out of the highest order.

The punk aesthetic is sold-out even further in this production’s compromised conclusion when -- SPOILER ALERT! -- Johnny, the central character (John Gallagher, Jr.), ultimately eschews the punk lifestyle in relatively short order (the show lasts a mere 95 minutes).

All this makes American Idiot nothing but a mere poseur.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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15 Comments:

At 02 May, 2010, Blogger Jessica said...

Wow, this kind of bums me out...I keep reading that evidence of a book/plot is shaky in the show, from various reviewers, and I'm getting worried since I've been planning on seeing this for quite some time.

It's such a shame, because it has so much potential to be great.

 
At 02 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jessica, Go see it and decide for yourself.

 
At 02 May, 2010, Blogger Katie said...

I agree with you 100%, Steve! I was so surprised to see so much positive press surrounding this show, having seen it myself in previews and coming out feeling very much the same way that you do. There's a reason you're my favorite theatre blogger (and that I trust your reviews). :)

 
At 02 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Katie, I went in hoping to love it, but it left too much to be desired.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Katie said...

I went in very much expecting to love it; it's the type of musical I tend to enjoy, they have a very talented cast, and I do like Green Day's music. I was also excited to be bringing the boyfriend along, expecting him to like it for the same reasons (and figured it would be the first step in him forgiving me for dragging him to Equus a few years ago). What we found was absolutely no plot, no character development, and the apathy of the characters really was contagious - to the point of completely alienating the audience (save the hardcore Green Day fans). I was entirely unmoved and, as you mentioned, it reeked of poseur-ness. I'll be the first to say that Green Day is punk just as much as Blink-182 is (eye roll), but the clean cut Broadway-does-fake punk really was too much for me. I also felt like it was trying too hard to be "arty" and taking itself way too seriously (can you imagine if Rock of Ages suddenly started taking itself that seriously?). Even though the show was only 90 minutes, I couldn't imagine it going on like that for any longer.

Luckily, we made a last minute decision to go see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson right after and that more than made up for the bad American Idiot experience.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Katie, You and I are really on the same page here through and through.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Linda said...

If you'll indulge me, I've been thinking recently about American Idiot and Fela!, both jukebox musicals but not really with similar strengths and weaknesses. They both have very weak books (I actually had an easier time following AI than Fela!), but are strong in every other sense. And also, how is turning a Broadway theater into a Nigerian nightclub that much better than trying to turn a Broadway theater into a punk rock show? I'm just curious why Fela! works for you and American Idiot doesn't.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Katie said...

I'm interested to see what Steve says, but I'll start out by saying that both Fela! and AI had interesting set designs, both of which I appreciated. I'd argue that the theater wasn't turned into a punk rock show in terms of AI (I would have loved it if they were able to actually do that); I felt completely alienated at AI, entirely unable to relate to or care about the characters (mirroring their inability to care or relate). With Fela!, I felt like I learned something (I knew nothing about afrobeat going in) and there was definitely a catharsis for me, personally, with the brutal ending juxtaposed with the care-free audience participation night club kind of beginning. I was engaged the entire time at Fela!, which I can't say about the overwhelmingly uncomfortable poseur feeling at AI.

What did you like about AI, Linda?

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Linda said...

Katie, I loved the set and video design of American Idiot, as well as the choreography, the music, and the cast. I didn't care too much about the characters (except for Tunny), but I was entertained from start to finish. I liked Fela!, but I felt more alienated at that show because I didn't know much about him beforehand and I actually didn't feel like I learned that much about him during the show.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Linda, I agree that Tunny was the most sympathetic character in American Idiot and the sequence with the woman in a burka was particularly captivating.

But I loved the nightclub motif of Fela! and the fact that this was based on a real musician's influence in Africa, a place where we could all do well in gaining a greater perspective and understanding. It simply resonated with me more than American Idiot.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger ShoNuff Lives said...

the other difference between the two is that fela! is based on a real person's experiences along with his music, whereas american idiot is solely based on a particular subset of music that had a distinct concept to it. although the book for fela! fell short of its potential, it ultimately had a more dramatically structured arc, and the female characters actually had names.

 
At 03 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

ShoNuffLives, That is precisely why I found Fela! so much more compelling.

 
At 28 May, 2010, Blogger Jill said...

A good chunk of the problem with AI (which I loved in spite of it) is that the album that is its source has ALL of its showstoppers in the first 20 minutes. Bam! "American Idiot". Bam! "Jesus of Suburbia." Bam! "Holiday" -- for my money the best damn rock song in a decade.

There's of course very little story, which means you either love the music (and the show) or you hate the music (and the show).

But after buying the soundtrack, and getting past the title track (which sounds sort of like "American Idiot" as sung by the cast of "Glee", what emerges are some absolutely gorgeous ballads that show what a damn good little songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong is.

Perhaps someday he'll instead of this square-peg-in-a-round-hole effort, compose a work specifically for musical theatre. I think he could create a winner.

 
At 28 May, 2010, Blogger Jill said...

Oh, and by the way, I know about your blog from Modern Fabulousity.

 
At 28 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Jill. I love so much of the music. The story? Not so much. But I agree that Billie Joe Armstrong has a lot of theatre queen up his sleeve - and I mean that in a good way!

 

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