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Review: Green Day’s American Idiot Blows Out the Buell

Although the rock musical has been around for decades, musicals composed entirely of modern rock music are still pretty rare. Green Day’s American Idiot is even more rare in that it stages an entire previously recorded rock album. But it’s not a jukebox musical, where popular songs are thrown together around a post-hoc storyline of dubious strength. No, Green Day always thought of their 2004 album as being driven by a strong narrative. With a book by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong  and Michael Mayer (Tony-Award winning director of Spring Awakening), this unique, 95-minute tour through three men and their relationships with suburbia, urbia, love, indifference and war is a powerful, very current piece of musical theater.

Tour Takes Green Day’s ‘Idiot’ Across America

HE SAID:  I think one of the most telling things I can say in response to the show is that I have been anxiously waiting to see this show again since we saw it in the it’s pre-Broadway run in Berkeley, CA, and even with my incredibly high expectations this production thrilled. Simply put, it is a rush. It’s definitely a powerhouse, in your face, purely rock show that explodes the intricately deep lyrics from the album into complex arrangements while weaving in some profound moments of true simplicity to reveal honest beauty. Verbose, I know, but it is a complex show. The vocals are top notch across the board and this has to be one of the most physically demanding shows around.

SHE SAID: I was definitely looking forward to this tour’s short visit in Denver, even after seeing it twice in Berkeley. The show is really unique because although I think it has a strong story, the story is driven by the music more than the music is the link between the parts of the story. There are no canonical scenes, the spoken word is more narration, sometimes relatively abstract, that helps string together the songs. But because the songs were written to tell a story, in fact multiple stories at once, it all sort of works. You just have to kind of blur your mind and not worry about the details, and go on the journey with the characters. The design helps you do this — television sets and LCD screens embedded in a busy, impressive set flash symbols throughout that help you connect different aspects of what is going on.

Music & Design Deliberately Create Frantic Pace

HE SAID: The in’s and out’s of the story are going to be easier to follow for some than others. That combined with the frenetic, nearly non-stop, enraged nature of the music and the piece as a whole can be a lot for people to take in and really turn off some – especially more conservative audiences. I definitely am with you that the technical elements – primarily the monitors and the wall projections – all enhance every moment in the piece, adding clarity to the plot while also, at times, providing another layer to the overall meaning of the number and show as a whole. That said – it is really easy to understand how people could find all of the strobe lights, flashing images on the tv screens, projections, and enraged dancing too much to take in at once.

SHE SAID : It’s definitely not for the weak of heart (or eardrum)! But given the requirement for this high energy level, the touring cast really blows it out of the water. The three men (Van Hughes, Scott J. Campbell and Jake Epstein) who play the three protagonists are all incredibly gifted vocally and give very emotionally compelling (and surely draining) performances. I really was impressed watching Gabrielle McClinton as Whatshername, at times she was expressing so much anger and frustration with such committed physicality that it almost affected her ability to vocalize (but not quite, she still sounds great). The ensemble are also kept very busy, running around performing choreography that was artfully simple and true to the time, sacrificing a polished veneer for a real authenticity in the movement. The costumes were also great, ranging from modern, alternative street wear to sequins and silk to starkly simple underoos. 

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Green Day Sets the Bar for Rock Musicals in the Present Day

THEY SAID: If you liked Spring Awakening, go see American Idiot. If you like current rock musicals, go see American Idiot. If you normally hate musicals, but you like Green Day, go see American Idiot. If you’re worried about getting affordable tickets to American Idiot, go early and put your name in for lottery tickets. If you think there hasn’t been a good American musical since Oklahoma!, sit this one out. Or go try your luck with the lottery — for $25, you can always sneak out halfway through with your hands over your ears and complain to the ushers that it’s too loud for you. But  fair warning, you might be judged by the incredibly hip people around you who will be totally enthralled by this production.

For more information on American Idiot, see the wikipedia page. American Idiot plays through March 11 at the Buell theater in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Click the banner above for tickets and more information. NOTE: $25 lottery tickets are available for front row seats 2.5 hours before each performance.


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