There is nothing quite like the wall of sound that radiates from the stage of the Ahmanson Theatre these days; compliments of Green Day’s American Idiot.
Based on songs from the 2004 Grammy Award winning album, the story revolves around three young men Johnny (Van Hughes), Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) as they contemplate their banal existence in safe, dull Suburbia. One day on February, in an effort to escape becoming an “American Idiot” or his stepfather Johnny decided to leave for the city. With Tunny and Will and their guitars, they hit the road. Well, he and Tunny hit the road. Will stays behind after getting the news that his girlfriend Heather (Leslie McDonel) is pregnant.
It doesn’t take long before the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" breaks the spirit of the dynamic duo. Tunny succumbs to the tidal wave of daylight propaganda and answers the call of to be an American “Favorite Son”. Before he knows if, Tunny is off to war.
Now totally alone fore the first time, Johnny wanders into the world of drugs and decadence, guided by St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak). Soon upon, Johnny meets the girl of his dreams, Whatsername (Gabrielle McClinton).
Tunny is wounded on the battlefield, Will’s relationship with Heather begins to deteriorate once the baby is born and Johnny is finding it harder and harder to leave the drug-haze long enough to pursuit his dreams and music. If these young men will find their way back from the impending abyss they each face, is unknown.
By design, American Idiot The Musical is a rock concert with a dramatic through line that the characters ride from one song to the next. This structural choice does nothing to detract from the drama happening on stage. In fact, it serves to illuminate the powerfully vivid narrative already present in the lyrics of the music. What struck me for the first time about Green Day’s music is how so precisely it can convey and define rebellion and angst and the absurdity of life one movement, only to capture the tenderness and intimacy of isolation, doubt and love.
The cast of this show is quite frankly phenomenal. Never have I had the pleasure to witness the explosion of such energy and wit, rage and whimsy in a single production. That wall of voices, that army marching forth with the sole purpose of exuding passion and song through force of presence times seventeen.
Christine Jones’ Scenic design is as smart as it is effective. The metallic scaffolding checkered with televisions screens big and small truly capturing the all-immersive infomercial pseudo-fact culture these men are trying to rebel against. Jones’ set is rotating, collapsing wonder than featured a fifteen foot rig that transformed from building fixture to street car, with performers riding the device through the entire ninety degree transition; it was the coolest purely mechanical visual special effect that I have seen in a long time.
Kevin Adams’ lighting design grounds the production to its rock & roll with an awesome shower of cue-activated, flashing floodlights and slow glowing splendor. Kudos to Darrel Maloney for his provocative video and projection design for his measured chaotic collage of visual media elements. The projection for “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was particularly effective.
And lest I forget, this was perhaps the best mixed show I’ve seen at Ahmanson in years. Balancing the audio between character and live band sound design is a seriously underrated art that this production executed with great skill and refinement. On behalf of those of us who can hear the difference: Well Done!
This show rocks! Don’t miss it!
Green Day’s American Idiot is running for a limited engagement through April 22, 2012 at:
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012