Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: Actually, I Would Like To Be An American Idiot Jul16

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Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: Actually, I Would Like To Be An American Idiot


a blogumn by Jersey Joe

I don’t want to be an American Idiot and I hope that I don’t fit into that stereotype during this 90 minutes of rock and roll, all set to a story, and originally produced as a album by the band Green Day.  Last week, I had the chance to see one of the newest shows that’s tearing up Broadway. I will give away some tidbits in this blogumn, But, I will in no way reveal the end, or offer any spoilers that could ruin the experience.

The story starts with three angry friends living in suburbia (named Jingletown, USA, in the Playbill). They are bored with their lives and frustrated with our country and the saturation of television in their lives.  One of the men, Johnny, borrows money from his mother for the three to purchase bus tickets.  Will quickly learns that his girlfriend is pregnant and he decides to stay and care for her and the child.  Johnny, along with his other friend Tunny head for the big city and that’s where their lives go off in different directions.

Johnny and Tunny don’t hang around together for long, as Tunny quickly gets bored with the city life and decides to enlist in the military.  He is sent off to fight and is quickly wounded, while Johnny falls in love with a girl he calls “Whatshername” and they head down a road of drugs and turmoil.

These three plot points were adapted off of Green Day’s American Idiot album.  The musical not only uses most of the tracks, but also contains a few alternate lyrics, as well as mixing in of some of the more popular Green Day songs such as “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”

The entire production is a straight 90 minutes with no intermission.  The stage is one large set and uses various light cues and overlays for scene changes.  Most of the set stays the same throughout, but their clever use of lighting to tell this story is some of the most original and spectacular that I’ve even seen on Broadway.  There are numerous television sets splashed throughout, which are used to display words, video, or go black depending on the needs for the scene.  A three story stairway on stage left also breaks away and parts of it are used for different scenes, such as riding on mass transit, or a party.

For me, one of the most spectacular scenes is when Tunny is laying in the army hospital after being wounded during fighting.  He hallucinates and sees the image of a woman that he falls in love with.  She descends down from the ceiling and he is lifted right off his bed and we are treated to a stunning aerial ballet.  The choreography for this scene alone is nothing short of amazing as they fly high above the hospital and back.  I couldn’t begin to imagine how long they rehearsed for this scene.

While rumors of the album being turned into a movie by VH-1 have fizzled, the stage version pressed forward and originally opened on September 4, 2009 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California.  The production moved to Broadway with previews beginning March 24, 2010 and officially opened on April 20th at the St. James Theatre.  Many of the lighting and design team for the show worked on the design for another hit show, Spring Awakening.

Reviews for the Berkeley production of the show were mixed, while reviews for the Broadway production were much more favorable.  Jim Harrington’s review for The New York Times called the show “…as moving as anything I’ve seen on Broadway this season.”

I certainly agree with his review.  The set design, look, music, and pacing of the show is simply brilliant.  The use of the television monitors integrated into the set, with LED lights, and video overlays to change the scene, while keeping the background the same not only works, but seems to help to contribute to the electric flow.  The music itself is for the most part upbeat.  While there is dialogue, 80% of the show is in the lyrics of the music.  The cast also plays along on instruments during many of the songs.

I found the opening scene where the trio finds themselves saturated with television media especially enjoyable.  Quick clips and sound bytes of shows move faster and faster and faster.  I was able to catch glimpses of Maury Povich, CNN, FOX News, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and dozens, if not hundreds of more clips.  They really work and set the tone of the show.  The opening implies there is too much television saturation and the characters are simply vegetating away to it.  While there is a great deal of channels and shows out there, it is up to you on how you consume it.

There are other undertones that the show takes a predictable tone with: war, drug use, pregnancy, etc.  While you kind of know where the plot is going with these, it in by no way ruins what the producers are trying to achieve.  It all ties together in the end.

Now, I’ve seen many Broadway shows over the years and I am noticing one big change… the lighting.  Checking out a show now, the lighting design is significantly more advanced than it was a decade ago.  On many sets now, the hot bulky stage lights with gels are replaced by multi-colored LED lights, that not only burn cooler, they last longer, they can produce multiple colors out of a single light, and can be programmed by computer to change more rapidly to more advanced synchronized effects.  There is little worry about a large bulb blowing during the show.  American Idiot certainly takes advantage of the latest light technology and makes it a major part of their set design.

Another benefit this show has is its location in the St. James Theatre.  The seats are well situated, so that there are very few obstructed views.  We were down front on stage left, so at times, you could not see all the action on the stairway set from where we were sitting, but you didn’t lose any of the plot.  Any seats that are not on the extreme lower right or left should provide a good view.  Also, there is plenty of room in the house.  The seats are regular size and provide a little bit of leg room.  The last production I saw, the audience cramped in there like mice in a Sucrets box.  Oh, and there’s plenty of space to get to the sizeable restroom, lobby, and bar area.

I really can’t say enough about this show.  I really had a blast.  I lost myself in the music and plot.  I can honestly say I didn’t want the show to end.  I would have had no problem sitting there for a few more scenes.  But, it’s always good to leave the audience coming back for more!

THE 411:


Where: St. James Theatre, Broadway, New York City

When: shows run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday at 8pm.  Tuesday and Saturday at 2pm and 8pm.  The show is dark on Sunday.



JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Absolutely a must-see!  Even if you are not a fan of Green Day or not in love with their kind of music, there’s still something for everyone.  However, I would leave the kids at home.  The war and drug use are not appropriate for kids, nor would they understand the plot.  Most of the show is sung, so pay attention to the lyrics.  Most of all, get ready for a visual frenzy that will definitely have your toes tapping and makes for a great night out on the town!