Picture by Doug Hamilton
Toronto – Remember when Green Day was just a smartass punk band who wrote songs about masturbation and named their breakthrough album after a slang term for poop? Yeah, I know, it’s kind of hard. After winning Grammys, penning ballads, having said ballad sung by a character on ER, they’re no longer a little punk band but full on rock stars and as such, have moved into the next stage of their career – transforming their American Idiot album into a musical. Now I will admit right off the bat that I’ve always been a little skeptical of the so-called “juke box musicals,” or as Ted Leo put it, “those half-assed musicals that cheapen (the) music and embarrass everyone involved.” However, unlike shows like Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You or Rock Of Ages, American Idiot is based around an album that already was a concept album so it has that going for it. And so, despite my prejudices, I went in with a relatively open mind in hopes of being dazzled by the production.
First, here’s what was good about American Idiot – the music, of course. After watching this show, I was reminded of how strong these songs were and noticed how well they worked as showtunes of sorts. The cast were all likeable and good performers. Van Hughes in particular was quite good in his role as Johnny, the lead character.
And now for what I didn’t particularly like. As good as Hughes and the rest of the cast were, I felt that they didn’t really have a lot to work with. Sure, Hughes really sold the role with the right amount of snotty attitude and a bit of charm, but really there wasn’t much to his character other than “stereotypical rebel punk guy.” The rest of the cast also didn’t have that much to work with. In fact, other than a few main characters, the rest of the cast is basically just nameless people singing bits of Green Day songs. As far as exposition, there was little in the way of dialogue with the songs taking up the bulk of the time onstage and probably rightfully so. I realize that many musicals rely largely on the songs themselves to tell the story, but I felt that the story itself was a little sparse. And I will admit that I forgot many of the characters’ names and had to look them up afterwards.
That said, it was an enjoyable production, albeit one that veered slightly into cheese every now and then (particularly the “Extraordinary Girl” scene involving wire-flying that just made me think of the “Streetcar Named Marge” episode of The Simpsons). If you’re a fan of Green Day and/or musical theatre, you just might like this.
So was it a half-assed musical that cheapened the music and embarrassed everyone involved? Not quite. If anything, seeing the songs in this setting improved my opinion of them. Also, that Ted Leo video is even funnier now after seeing this. That alone makes it worthwhile.
American Idiot plays at the Toronto Center for Arts until January 15th, get tickets here