“American Idiot” is a big, loud swirl of simulated sex, drug use, vulgar language and middle fingers continuously raised at everyone and no one.
In other words, the musical does a great job of capturing the feeling of being young in the post-9/11 decade, when a new and constant fear of terror made us love, swear, party and rebel that much harder.
Based on the hit Green Day album of the same name, “American Idiot” is a punk rock opera – the story of three, young suburbanites who eventually tire of calling each other names, drinking beer and visiting their local 7-11.
They grab their guitars and light out for the big city, but almost immediately their paths diverge. Will rots on his ratty couch, stuck back home in his small town with an unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend. Tunny makes it to the city briefly, but winds up joining the military, which lands him in Iraq and eventually a hospital bed. Johnny stays in the city where he falls in love with both the beautiful Whatsername, and the heroin provided by his tempter and object of bromance, the spritely, glitter-throwing St. Jimmy.
The story is told with barely any dialogue – a testament to Green Day front-man Billie Jo Armstrong's songwriting. The well-worn hits from the album had grown tiresome on the radio, but they sound fresh again in the theater, without straying far from the Green Day sound. The music in this musical hits you at more of a rock concert volume, than a musical theater volume. You feel the bass and drums thump you in your bones.
The set is also sparse, except for the 30-plus TV sets that display everything from infomercials, to reality shows to news clips of George W. Bush, driving home a theme of media over-saturation. But it's the way the characters move on that sparsely decorated stage that's beautiful – leaping into beds beds, slipping in and out of clothes, flipping through windows and spinning each other in shopping carts.
Moments that really stood out included a great sort of heroin tie-off ballet between Johnny and Whatsername, and a moving scene with Tunny and Extraordinary Girl flying above a hospital room.
I also have to mention the sequence where Tunny gets dazzled by an army recruiter. I won't give it away, but if you've ever come under the spell of a flashy recruiter, only to find yourself in boot camp with your head shaved and wondering how you got there, you're going to laugh hard.
Overall, it's a beautifully fun piece of ugly millennial culture.