Theater Review

'American Idiot' moves and mesmerizes

CorrespondentFebruary 2, 2012 

  • What: "American Idiot" presented by Broadway Series South and N.C. Theatre

    Where: Memorial Auditorium, Progress Energy Center, Raleigh

    When: 7:30 p.m. tonight-Sunday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

    Cost: $20-$75

    Info: 831-9641;

Punk rock and the Broadway musical might seem polar opposites, but "American Idiot" proves their fusion can work. Based on the popular 2004 album by Green Day, this two-time Tony winner melds punk's raw energy with Broadway theatrical structure, creating something excitingly new.

Yes, it's loud, with lots of blinding lighting effects. And there's crude language, depictions of drug use and near-explicit sexual situations. But it's all relevant to this story of the frustrations and hopes of today's youths.

Johnny and his friends, Will and Tunny, see their suburban-bound lives as meaningless, blaming it on America's politics and policies. Johnny scrapes together money for bus tickets to the big city, hoping to find something to give them all purpose. Will ends up staying home because his girlfriend is pregnant. Tunny finds urban life unfulfilling and joins the Army to achieve something meaningful. Johnny meets the girl of his dreams but falls prey to drugs, causing her to leave him and his life to crumble.

The 90-minute one-act plays out on an eclectic set of warehouse walls, scaffolding and platforms, with a six-piece band on stage. The walls are studded with video screens that play TV newscasts, animations and live video, and sometimes the entire set is swathed in giant projections.

Director Michael Mayer keeps the energy astonishingly pumped, the cast constantly jumping, stomping and racing around. Several instances of aerial acrobatics, not to be spoiled here, are jaw dropping.

Most impressive of all is Steven Hoggett's mesmerizing choreography, which drives the whole show. It's not meant to be pretty or aesthetic; instead, it's raucous and fierce, with angry lunging and robotic gesturing.

How Van Hughes can keep up his astounding intensity as Johnny is a mystery. He manages to make Johnny's cluelessness and hedonism sympathetic, his singing alternately searing and tender. Scott J. Campbell's moving Tunny and Jake Epstein's goofy Will further the plot's points, while Gabrielle McClinton as dream girl Whatsername, and Leslie McDonel as Will's girlfriend, Heather, give well-rounded portrayals. Joshua Kobak projects devilish fun as St. Jimmy, Johnny's alter ego.

The show is not for those wanting a traditional musical, but it should appeal to those interested in the form's latest evolution, one likely to win crossover converts from its two merged components.


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