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Theatre Review (LA): American Idiot by Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong at the Ahmanson Theatre

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American Idiot made its long anticipated Los Angeles debut at the Ahmanson Theatre on March. The musical is based on an album by the rock group Green Day and was made into a musical by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and eventual director Michael Mayer. As an album the music had earned a Grammy as Best Rock Album and again as a musical it was awarded six awards out of 20 nominations.

The story takes place in the recent past and centers on a trio of disenchanted youth living in “Jingletown” saturated with TV and frustrated with life in suburbia. There is Johnny, a young man desperate to engage, is tempted by a version of himself he congers called St. Jimmy and tries heroin for the first time. He hooks up with a girl he sees in a window he calls “Whatsername” and proceeds down the path of addiction.

Another young man, Tunny, goes to the city with his friends but is seduced by an ad about the army. Thinking it may be the answer to his dreams, he enlists, is wounded, and ends up with one leg.

The third male character is a lay-about who gets a girl pregnant so spends his day watching TV and drinking beer. All three guys represent the “American Idiot.” Johnny tries to redeem himself by taking a “straight” job, but he quits and laments the loss of “Whatsername” and settles down to a life of struggle.

Some critics have commented that this show lies in a progression of musicals that speak to a generation, Hair, Rent, and now American Idiot. But I think Hair and Rent are much deeper, the one dealing with Vietnam, and the other with AIDS in the artistic community. American Idiot is really just a jukebox musical.

It a wonderful production however with some terrific performances by Van Hughes (Johnny), Joshua Kobak (St. Jimmy), Scott Campbell (moving as Tunny) and Jake Epstein (Will). Gabrielle McClinton also shines as “Whatsername.” The set by Christine Jones is awesome with over 30 monitors lining the walls. The choreography by Steven Hoggett is inspired. Michael Mayer has done a brilliant job of directing. While rock is not my favorite form of music (I tend to be old school), I liked most of the music. American Idiot will play at the Ahmanson Theatre until April 22.


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