American Idiot Review - An American Rock Opera


Van Hughes (Johnny) and Joshua Kobak (St. Jimmy)

Green Day’s American Idiot has all the swagger and music you would expect from a Green Day concert.  From the opening moments of the play, where the audience is exposed to early 21st century media snippets and paranoia, to the final number, American Idiot sings, barks, and jabs into your mindset.  This should not be too surprising given that all the lyrics and music were written by Green Day and front man Billie Joe Armstrong.  It was also Billie Joe Armstrong who, impressed by Spring Awakening, approached Director Michael Mayer with the idea of taking the concept rock opera album to the stage.  This effort resulted in three Tony Awards and an extended run on Broadway.  After reviewing the opening night performance at the Oriental Theater, I understand why.  Whereas I found Spring Awakening often contrived and guilty of over reaching, American Idiot is more honest entertainment. 

Gabrielle McClinton and Van Hughes

Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) and Nicci Claspell (The Extraordinary Girl)

American Idiot stars Van Hughes (Johnny), Jake Epstein (Will) and Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) are three friends who navigate their way through suburbia in a post-9/11 world.  The three friends take very different paths: one goes to war, another stays home to be a father, and Johnny loses himself to love, drugs, and music.  All three ultimately are scarred by their decisions and must make peace with who they become.  Supporting, pushing, and propping them up along the way are Leslie McDonel (Heather), Gabriel McClinton (Whatshername), and Niki Claspell (The Extraordinary Girl).  Joshua Kobak plays the incredibly devilish embodiment of rock and roll (St. Jimmy).  All seven actors as well as the ensemble put in superb performances.  Van Hughes, Leslie McDonel, and Joshua Koback were part of the original Broadway cast of American Idiot and the other actors had all the necessary experience and talent needed to create an intense and engaging theater experience.  From start to finish there is never a let up in energy.

Scott J. Campbell (Tunny)

Jake Epstein (Will)

American Idiot runs for approximately ninety minutes without an intermission.  During that time twenty one songs are performed with very limited dialogue in between.  Some songs were better than others.  21 Guns, Wake Me Up When September Ends, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and Give Me Novacaine stood out for their stark lyrics and carefully paired choreography.  Other songs were less distinctive, but as a whole the play managed to convey emotions well.  Plot, however, was much less easily discerned.  My wife and I overheard many couples trying to piece together exactly what happened in American Idiot.  More amusing was the visible discomfort of the young family sitting in front of us who seemed surprised by the frequent obscenities, drug use, and the one extended simulated sex scene.  No matter.  American Idiot is a wonderfully realized musical story that will be sure to entertain those unafraid of rock and roll

Van Hughes, Scott J. Campbell, and Jake Epstein

Bottom Line:  American Idiot is recommended for anyone who appreciates Green Day, the musicals Rent and Spring Awakening, or MTV videos.  The CTA Blue Line is convenient to the Oriental Theatre; otherwise expect to pay top dollar for parking.  To purchase tickets click here:   American Idiot will only be in Chicago for two weeks!

All photos provided by Broadway in Chicago

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