The show: The national tour of “American Idiot” at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford.
First impressions: The operative expression for musical based on Green Day's 2004 pop-punk album “American Idiot” is “rock opera.” Like classic grand opera it reaches heightened musical expressions, deals with archetypes and lets the emotions go full-blast. Here the score is (mostly) raw, angry, nihilistic and thrillingly electrified.
The same goes for Michael Mayer's brilliant staging and Stephen Hogget's wild-yet-fully-in-control choreography. A young, sexy cast vividly tells its theatrically-realized story of alienated, angst-filled youth that speaks to the post 9/11 generation. But some older folks may be reminded — and relate to — the rage, ennui and chaos from their youth.
What’s it about?: Three restless rockers — Johnny (Alex Nee), Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) and Will (Casey O’Farrell) —set out to escape from their suburban emptiness. Will drops out of the road trip when his girlfriend Heather (Kennedy Caughell) gets pregnant. And Tunny soon exits as well, seduced by glitzy U.S. Army marketing star (a dynamic Jared Young), enlists, and is sent to Iraq.
Meanwhile Johnny (a stand-in for Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) is drawn into the world of drugs by the charismatic pusher St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders) and finds that even love with Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma) won’t necessarily save him.
That’s not much of a story. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Yawn. You’re right. It’s pretty basic stuff and the characters are so thinly drawn that without the richness of the melodic songs and the staging, they could easily become urgent-but-empty cliches. (The anesthetized character of Will essentially goes nowhere — that’s the point, I know — but stilll...). The characters get their specialness from the interpretative abilities of the terrific young actors singing the intense, raucous rock. If only...
If only what?: The sound system of the Bushnell gave us the ability the hear the lyrics. The mix was a mess — though improved as the show went on. When the show is all rock music, making the sound clear is Job One.
Couldn’t we just listen to the album instead?: And miss out on the staging, performances and excitement of live performance? No way. Besides, the show is not the album. There are women singing some songs; there’s storytelling involved (such as it is); there’s restructuring of songs for dramatic purposes (including the inclusion of a few songs from the band’s “21st Century Breakdown”); there’s some breathtaking coup de théâtre; and there’s a smart, respectful arrangement of the music by Tom Kitt, who finds new emotional depth that even the most devoted album listeners would be surprised to discover. And then there are the performances.
And...? Dynamite cast with great voices. Armstrong look-alike Nee is sullen, snarky, dazed and confused and yes, sweet — all at once. Hettrick offers a different take on alienation and has a mesmerizing, high-flying number with Jenna Rubaii in “Extraordinary Girl.” O’Farrell’s chops are solid, even if his character isn’t.
Who will like it?: Green Day fans will have a blast. Those who like rock musicals will give it a thumbs up. Ditto older rebels.
Who won’t?: Those who hate rock musicals, loud shows, and hey, you kids...get off my lawn!
For the kids?: Yes, if they’re savvy. hip teens; but too intense and dicey for those much younger.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less?: The kids are definitely not alright — but this bold, hyper-theatrical stunner of a show is.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: In “The Wild One” a girl asks Brando what he was rebelling against. He answers: “Whadda you got?” Each generation reworks its own youth rebellion, but as expressed in “American Idiot” there’s a deadening, frightening malaise at the core of these hearts that is sobering.
The basics: The show plays through Sunday, March 3 at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. The show is 95 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $75, not including fees. Information: 860-987-5900 and www.bushnell.org.
Bargain alert!: 25 orchestra pit seats will be available for all performances at a discount. For those 31 years old or younger tickets are $31, inclusive of fees. They must be purchased in-person at the box office. Limit four tickets per order, valid ID for proof of age required.
The tour returns to Connecticut from May 3 to 5 when it plays the Shubert Theater in New Haven.
GREEN DAY plays Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Blvd., Uncasville, on April 6 at 8 p.m.