'American Idiot' on Broadway: What did the critics think?
After all, this ode to youthful alienation is based on a 2004 album by the popular punkers Green Day --some of whose fans cheer, while others jeer, the idea of their band doing a musical. And it was created by a team that includes alumni of the recent rock mega-hit "Spring Awakening."
So when it opened at the St. James Theatre on Tuesday, everyone was curious to see if "Idiot" could live up to all the hype.
The show's story line is simple: Three young suburban guys try to make their way in post-9/11 America. Johnny (John Gallagher Jr., who won a Tony for "Spring Awakening") finds a girl and a lots of drugs in the big city. Tunny (Tony nominee Stark Sands) goes off to war. Will (Michael Esper) struggles to support a wife and child.
The score was written by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool. The minimal book was put together by Armstrong and director Michael Mayer of "Spring Awakening."
Green Day fans have been packing the house, both during previews in New York and last fall's original run at Berkeley Rep. The big question is how it would fare with traditional Broadway theater-goers -- not to mention the critics. Judging from the opening-night reviews, everyone likes the music and staging, but otherwise the reaction is mixed.The New York Times' Charles Isherwood raved: "A pulsating portrait of wasted youth that invokes all the standard genre conventions — bring on the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, please! — only to transcend them through the power of its music and the artistry of its execution, the show is as invigorating and ultimately as moving as anything I’ve seen on Broadway this season. Or maybe for a few seasons past."
USA Today praised the cast: "John Gallagher Jr. delivers a performance that's more nuanced than his Tony-winning turn as a tortured misfit in 'Spring Awakening' but just as intense. Rebecca Naomi Jones wields sensual ferocity and disarming tenderness as the girlfriend who won't give up on him (for a while, at least). Michael Esper and Stark Sands appear as Johnny's beleaguered buddies ... both are drawn, and played, with an empathy, humor and zest that defy pity."
The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones declared "the furious, alienated and unshowered youth of Green Day's 'American Idiot' come to explosive life on the Broadway stage in a heart-pounding, punk-rock opera that sounds the unmistakable siren of generational shift."
Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press noted that the hour-and-half-long production is "just right for an MTV generation weaned on YouTube clips and music videos. 'American Idiot,' in fact, plays like one." He wrote of the show's "visually striking, musically adventurous take" on the Green Day album, but found only "the barest wisp of a story and minimal character development. At best its slacker guys are sketchy portraits, prototypes rather than real people."
Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News went even further. He praised the score and staging, but wrote: "Thanks for the music, Green Day. But, jeez, could you have spared a story? And a couple characters who aren't clichéd stick figures? Because that's what a Broadway musical needs to make it more than just a music video or a concert."
-- Karen Wada
Photo: Michael Esper and Mary Faber in "American Idiot" on Broadway. Credit: Associated Press / The Hartman Group / Paul Kolnik