American Idiot (lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong), which opened at the Lower Ossington Theatre last Thursday, isn’t as catchy as the 2004 Green Day album; but for those who crave a loud patriotic performance, this musical serves up a heavy dose of nostalgia with kick-butt choreography.
The show commences with television screens broadcasting clips of George Bush, 9/11 and The Simpsons. This symbolism sets the stage for what will be two hours of soft-serve anarchy.
The play follows the album’s central theme of self-destruction. It is loosely narrated here and there by a character called the Jesus of Suburbia, also known as Johnny (Mike Buchanan), who is tormented by St. Jimmy, a modern-day patron saint of drugs. Johnny’s two other suburban misfit friends Tunny (Evan Taylor Benyacar) and Will (Luiz Dasilva) provide addition points of view for the play. Through the musical, each character comes to realize the dire consequences of living impulsively.
Johnny moves to the city with his guitar, meets a girl and becomes a heroin junkie. Tunny joins the military, fights in Afghanistan and returns with a prosthetic leg. Will refunds his ticket in quiet desperation after he fathers a child. The album dates back to the middle years of Bush’s presidency. All of these storylines showcase the shortcomings of the American dream as each character’s pathway does not pan out the way they had hoped for.
The musical has 21 well-known songs in total and almost no dialogue apart from Johnny’s somewhat angsty recited diary entries. At times, the randomness of the lyrics make the corresponding performance feel like one long live-action music video. Some of the storylines suggested in the songs are noticeably different than what happens onstage. It can be difficult to separate the character’s reality from a mere figment of the character’s imagination.
Some of the best examples of angst and rebellion come from the energetic choreography by Natasha Strilchuk. The performers climb ladders, gyrate on the floor and lash out, keeping the energy alive for longer numbers without looking exhausted and tacky. With such a large cast, each dance has great detail and at times, performers almost require a wider stage for movement.
The end of the play goes against everything the majority of the album stood for. The characters return back home, put on a tie and conform to societal standards. That being said, there are beautiful juxtapositions within many of the songs that show you the progression towards such conformity. Some of the best numbers include “Jesus of Suburbia,” where we see the three friends part ways, the dream-state song “Extraordinary Girl,” where nurses tend to wounded soldiers and “21 Guns,” where we hear heavenly harmonies.
American Idiot is a simple story told through heartful modern musical theatre tactics. While audience members will benefit from listening to the soundtrack prior to the show, the performance can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of the album. The talented cast enhances the show and audience members can be sure to sing along, enjoy the show and poke fun at our southern neighbours.
American Idiot runs at the Lower Ossington Theatre until May 24. Tickets can be purchased at http://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/AmericanIdiot.
photo credit: Seanna Kennedy