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'American Idiot' at Berkeley Repertory: What did the critics think?

September 18, 2009 | 10:21 am


With the opening of "American Idiot" this week in Berkeley, the rock band Green Day makes its first official leap into the world of musical theater.

It also means that the band is venturing for the first time into the bloodied lair of drama critics.

Not known to welcome crossover talent with undiluted warmth or affection, theater reviewers tend to take a special pleasure in eviscerating inaugural efforts by pop theatrical neophytes. Berkeley Repertory has, for the time  being, asked the national press -- including the Los Angeles Times -- not to review "American Idiot" during its world premiere run.

In case you haven't heard by now, "American Idiot" is adapted from Green Day's hit album of the same name. The musical, directed by Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening"), features an ensemble of young stage talent, including Tony winner John Gallagher Jr. The show revolves around a fictional character named Jesus of Suburbia and also features songs from other Green Day albums, including the current release "21 Guns."

So what did local critics have to say about "American Idiot"? Keep reading to find out ...

The San Francisco Chronicle's Robert Hurwitt wrote that the musical  "doesn't deliver much in the way of character or story" but added that it "packs plenty of excitement and entertainment into a remarkably theatrical rock concert." He also noted that earplugs are available at the theater, though the decibel level doesn't reach rock-concert levels.

GreenDayPG Leslie Katz of the San Francisco Examiner also complained that the book for the musical "remains thin. Surface characters, an undeveloped plot, MTV-inspired choreography and costumes that look too much like costumes (or like they were supplied by fashion experts at Levi’s, a show sponsor) at times lend a lack of authenticity and keep viewers at a distance."

In a review published by the San Jose Mercury News, music critic Jim Harrington of the Oakland Tribune slammed the production by writing: "There will hopefully come a day when the stage adaptation of 'American Idiot' is seen as just a curious misstep in Green Day's otherwise highly enjoyable career." He went on to say that the "music sounds processed and stale, handled with kid gloves by way too many players and sung by more than a dozen actors that have rehearsed the original fire right out of the songs."

The Mercury also published a review by its theater critic Karen D'Souza, who had kinder things to say about the production. She described the show as a "punk extravaganza that, as the song goes, explodes in your heart like a hand grenade." The musical, she added, is as "compelling as it is abstract, [channeling] the grungy spirit of punk while also plucking at the heartstrings."

-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from the Green Day musical "American Idiot." Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times