If you ever had any questions about what, just what, Broadway does that makes it Broadway, come to American Idiot. It isn’t just the soaring set Christine Jones has built to house this Punk opera – yes, Punk, yes, opera – fifty feet high, splattered with forty big and little monitors, plastered with pages and pages of magazines, it isn’t just the endless videos Darren Maloney projects on these staring video screens, it isn’t just the endless technical bursts bombarding throughout, the costumes, the lights, the decibels, Stephen Hoggett’s trenchant choreography, Tom Kitt’s music arrangements and orchestrations, it’s not only Michael Mayer’s passionate direction, it’s the whole package vibrating, exploding, shimmering, jittering inside a vintage, classic theater that has never housed its like. Punk rock on Broadway, claiming to be an opera. Well, an opera, why not. But Punk Rock? Should it even be capitalized? I guess 16 million albums speak for themselves. Green Day, the band, is responsible for the music and lyrics. Billie Joe Armstrong is responsible for the book and for Green Day. Along with a healthy assist from director Michael Mayer. Although “healthy” may not be the right word.
There’s the attempt at a story frame. No attempt to speak of (joke) as dialogue. Three dudes – they’re not boys quite, they’re not men either – Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.) Will (Michael Esper) and Tunny (Stark Sands) hang out. They are what is called in some circles alienated. Pissed off at the world, their parents, politics, you name it. They manifest this by walking on furniture, playing guitars as loud as they can, doing the knock kneed drop that is the hottest stance in punk rockery, putting their all in their songs. Their all is “I Don’t Care” “City of the Damned” “Tales of Another Broken Home” “Give Me Novocain” and about thirty more. The closest thing to a song is the appealing “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, still burdened with anomie, far from the favorite with a rabid fan filled audience, but a song which would survive on its own if the throbbing electricity were suddenly turned off. (Hmmmm. Where would they all be…) This number is advertised in the program with a special tip- in flier that advises you “Now is the time to use the rest room, not during the ballad.” The producers know their audience. Oh, and on another flier which tells you to hang around the theater’s bar after the show, specialty drinks are listed, their ingredients bared: “St. Jimmy’s Wildfire”, “Letterbomb: “A Shot of Novocain”. What can you lose, dude?
There’s only gain: this opera does encores. Yes, indeedy. If you think you’ve reached your decibel tolerance limit, think again. It’s when you’re pounded on your shoulders by the screamer behind you that you find out how much you can stand. And you do stand. Self defense. Besides, there’s an incipient Mosh coming your way. More fun than the beach balls in La Cage. Even the vendors – did I tell you that there are vendors peddling their wares walking the aisles? – get out of the way. But getting back to Johnny and Will and Tunny: Johnny goes a wandering, succumbs to the aspish wiles of dope peddler St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent) and dopes up something fierce. In spite of the admonitions of Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Will has to stay home with his feet on the couch because Heather (Mary Faber) is pregnant and he is doing the Decent Thing. (Character Heather is the only female to get a real name in the program. Why is that, I wonder?) Tunny enlists, gets shot up, loses a leg and is salvaged by The Extraordinary Girl (Christina Sajous). They all hug at the end, sadder and wiser. Or perhaps unwiser. We are not sure. What we are sure of is decibels!
St. James Theater, 246 West 44th Street. Tickets: $32-$127. 212 -239-6200. Tue, Sun 7 pm. Wed-Sat 8 pm. Mat Sun 2 pm.