Theater Review: "American Idiot" At The Ahmanson
The show, which is based on the Green Day album of the same name, is a loosely plotted narrative following Jimmy (Van Hughes) and his friends Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) on their journey from adolescence to adulthood. The book (by Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer), if it can even be called that, probably amounts to about two pages, double-spaced, and is by far the weakest part of the show. But it almost doesn't matter, since the rest of the show is so incredibly vibrant that its weaknesses fall by the wayside.
"American Idiot" is brash and explosive, and most of all, filled to the brim with youthful angst. It is not a timeless show so much as a show that speaks to issues that are relevant to the Green Day generation. The cast is comprised entirely of young men and women who give their utmost during every single one of the show's 95 minutes. Particular standouts include the magnetic Josh Kobak as St. Jimmy, Johnny's personal antagonist (and drug dealer) and Jake Epstein, who is remarkably compelling as the couch potato Will. Van Hughes also has some lovely moments as Johnny, but at times he and others venture too far into the realm of caricature. It seems, though, that this is most likely a fault in the direction, not in his and the other actors' choices.
While "American Idiot" has its roots in other rock shows like "Spring Awakening" and "Next to Normal," it is a unique experience. It is not a typical musical, but more a rock concert with choreography. Indeed, the singing is one of the show's strongest points, and the cast capably belts Tom Kitt's luscious orchestrations in true contemporary pop/rock musical theater style. The choreography, by Steven Hoggett, is urgent, kinetic, and crisp.
At times, "Idiot" seems to slip a tad under tempo, but it more than makes up for it in its liveliest numbers, such as "American Idiot," "Too Much Too Soon," "Letterbomb," "Last of the American Girls/She's A Rebel," and even on some of the more quietly intense songs, like "When It's Time," "21 Guns," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," and the show's finale, "Whatshername." As a whole, the show is a frenetic journey through the lives of America's suburban youth.
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