Last night, I saw the opening night performance of The American Idiot at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. Through a bit of fortune, perhaps, I scored a couple of tickets and took a friend who enjoys theater with me. I was so glad that this particular friend joined me as she has a critical mind but also enjoys music and an adventure. We both enjoy musicals quite a bit, but having families and budgets limit the number of musicals either of us see each year outside of the high school performances we watch because we know someone. So we both welcomed a night out at the theater on someone else’s dime.
We did not know much going into this particular adventure, but we knew a couple of things.
Number one: the musical comes with some warnings of “adult themes” and strong language.
Number two: the musical has Green Day music in it. Neither my friend nor I are exceptionally Green Day literate, but we had both heard enough songs to know that we could at least enjoy the music even if the “adult themes” were a bit too much for us.
I am always honest…perhaps blunt to a fault. So I am going to honest and blunt.
The bad was pretty bad.
The musical is a Green Day concert (which would have been down in the good category, by the way!) – without the actual Green Day band, of course – held together with a loose plot about frustrated young people. Honestly, their frustration, extravagant drug use, and sex-without-relationship attitudes get a bit old in this 90 minute musical. With the number of f-bombs and simulated sexual acts on stage, this show would have been rated “R” if it had been a movie. At first, I thought all of this was to set up the characters; however, as the musical went on, it just got worse and more explicit.
Please note: I am not a prude, but I am not a fan of sexually explicit scenes or excessive f-bomb usage. I just do not think that either is necessary. While there was plenty of license taken, there was nothing artistic about it.
By the end of the musical, I felt depressed as the overall message of the show is that life is meaningless. The young couple who create a baby split up, the main character nearly dies of an overdose before giving in to the “chains” of an office job. And the young adults just get angrier. Even though they all come back for a reunion homecoming, there is no true hope or meaning to any of their lives. They have settled on being less angry, but none of them have found meaning.
The only character with any truly “positive” resolution in the entire show is the young man who had gone off to war and lost his leg at the knee. Woe to the theater-goer who hopes for a show of redemption like Les Miserables.
This was so disappointing because the music was so good! At one point, I did consider closing my eyes and just listening to the music because the music was that good.
What was good was really, really good.
All of the performers are extremely talented. This musical is very demanding – musically and physically. All of the performers wear a microphone. Several play many roles and pull them off convincingly. Many play instruments at various points in the show. The band – even the string instruments – is on stage throughout the entire performance. They blend in seamlessly – almost as a part of the set but not entirely.
The set! Wow – seriously…AMAZING. It alternates between being an apartment building on a street and being several television sets which play brainwashing subliminal messages during the anti-establishment song scenes. There are moveable and changing parts of the set which truly made me gasp in awe. The best example of this was during the song “Holiday” when the scaffolding changed into an open bus as the entire cast heads to the big city.
My vote for the song with the best harmonies was “Before the Lobotomy.” In this scene, four wounded soldiers sing a quartet. I was breathless; it was that good!
My vote for the song with the best choreography was “Extraordinary Girl” in which a wounded soldier has a medically drug-induced dream about a girl who resembled “I Dream of Jeannie.” The two of them flew through the air, performed acrobatics, and sang. This is possibly one of the most awesome moments I have ever seen in a musical!
My vote for the best line in the show was from the main character near the end of the show. At the beginning of the show, the young man had left home for New York to make it rich as a musician. Instead, he gets sucked into the drug scene, has a rocky relationship which ends because of his drug use, and becomes a total burn-out who sells his guitar to pay for a Greyhound ticket to go home. He writes to his mom, “Dear mom – you know how dad – I mean Brad – said I would never amount to anything? Well, I’ve one-upped him. I have amounted to nothing. I knew you’d be proud.”
Overall: I am not a total Broadway snob who says that it should not have been on Broadway because of the Green Day music. On the contrary, I am very much in favor of using great music in musicals. We all love to sing along with our favorite musical songs; if those songs happen to be by a pop punk band like Green Day, I do not oppose. In fact, the music is what kept me in my seat last night. What I do oppose is poorly written storylines with shallow characters combined with the base humor, over-the-top nasty language, and needless explicit sex scenes.
The bottom line? The ticket value of my seat tonight was $81. My suggestion? Spend the same amount of money and go to a concert. You get all of the good and skip all of the bad. When the best part of a musical is an encore that is not part of the storyline, there are problems. Blunt – yes – but honest.
Spoiler alert: If you do not want to know about the encore, you should not continue.
The encore rocked!
The dark mood lifted along with the curtain as the entire cast … all 17 of them … strapped on guitars, played them, and sang “Time of Your Life.” Everyone in the theatre was on our feet for the entire song. The girl in front of me wanted to start a trend by holding up her cell phone with the lighter app. It did not catch on. However, in my heart, I sort of wanted to join her. It was the first hopeful moment in the entire evening.
PS: Chuck the Usher is the best. He rocks! Thanks for the picture, Chuck!