With music and lyrics by straight from modern punk rock megastars Green Day's 2004 concept album of the same name, 'American Idiot' offers much more than a head-banging soundtrack as the award winning musical plays TPAC's Jackson Hall for a three-day limited run from March 5-7 with performances each night at 7:30.
To say that 'American Idiot', the Tony and Grammy winning theatrical adaptation of Green Day's equally popular and critically well-received 2004 record is not your parents' musical is a bit of a misnomer. Yes the musical showcases nearly every song from the concept album, and at decibel levels typically reserved for a full-on rock concert, but like it's theatrical concept album-to-Broadway-hit predecessor, 'Tommy', based on The Who's 1969 recording, 'American Idiot' not only cleverly holds up a mirror to the struggles of modern youth, but it does so with barely a spoken word, while simultaneously entertaining and making the audience think.
Against a visually stunning backdrop reminiscent of a 'Rent'-esque industrial cityscape crossed with enough video monitors to make even Max Headroom blow his top, the audience is invited to witness the journey of three friends as they struggle to find themselves in a pre-9-11 world. Said scenic design and lighting effects nabbed Tony's for Christine Jones and Kevin Adams respectively.
As for our heroines, Alex Nee is cast as Johnny, but Green Day fans will surely see similarities between him and Green Day frontman and 'American Idiot' book and lyricist collaborator, Billie Joe Armstrong. Nee is joined onstage by Thomas Hettrick as Tunny and former Nashvillian Casey O'Farrell as Will, who may or may not be fictional representations of Armstrong's bandmates Mike Dirnt, Jason White and Tre' Cool.
In the confines of the musical, Johnny, Will and Tunny are living the typical lost boy life of any number of Gen-Xers. Setting the rockin pace for the entirety of the show, things literally kick off with a raucous presentation of the title tune. With their objective clearly stated, Johnny, Will and Tunny set out to make a name for themselves by pursuing a career in music by a journey to New York City.
Unfortunately, Will soon learns he can't make the trek when his girlfriend Heather (Kennedy Caughell) turns up pregnant. My friend who accompanied me to opening night in Nashville later pointed out that she felt Caughell was miscast as the wannabe rocker's girlfriend, but I disagree. Caughell seems to represent the all-too-famiiliar good girl attracted to bad boys we all knew in high school, but more than that, she also symbolizes the hard fact that life too often gets in the way of dreams.
Then there's the brilliantly monikered Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma), the atypical girl Johnny meets and falls for once in the big city. While she may not be the type of girl to tie Johnny down in the traditional sense of the word, she does aide in getting him caught up in the mystique of a rock and roll lifestyle. DiPalma's vocals early in the show on 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' are a highlight of the show.
Johnny's downfall is also aided by St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders). To again reference The Who's 'Tommy', think of St. Jimmy as the modern male equivalent to Tina Turner's Acid Queen. St. Jimmy perfectly personifies yet another archetype, that of local rock god.
It's at this point that I have to mention the hauntingly beautiful choreography. While it's breathtaking throughout the show, the clever incorporation of the yellow rubber tubing drug addicts use to find a prominent vein serves a double-meaning when Johnny becomes tethered to Whatsername during a hauntingly beautiful dance sequence.
With Johnny delving further and further into darkness and Will surviving life at home with a baby on the way, Tunny makes an unexpected move by joining the Army and shipping out to the Middle East. Hettrick's Tunny, like the other two, gets his leading lady in the form of a female medic simply referred to as 'The Extraordinary Girl' (Jenna Rubaii).
Another of the show's highlights comes with Tunny being administered a morphine drip to ease the pain of his battlefield injury. During this sequence, set to the songs 'Before the Lobotomy' and Extraordinary Girl', Hettrick and Rubaii perform truly spectacular arial highwire choreography in one of the show's most visually stunning moments.
All three leading ladies, their leading men and the rest of the company blow the audience away during '21 Guns', but it's the thought-provoking interpretation of Green Day's 'Wake Me When September Ends' with blatant, but visually beautiful references to the tragedy of 9-11 that really moved me during the performance.
The show rounds out with our three boys reluctantly reuniting back on their home turf, but forever changed by their time apart. These scenes are perfectly illustrated by Green Day's 'Homecoming' ,'The Death of St. Jimmy', 'East 12 Street', 'Nobody Likes You', 'Rock and Roll Girlfriend' and 'We're Coming Home Again'.
If you missed 'American Idiot' during its Nashville run, the national tour continues with dates in Charlotte, NC, Dayton, OH, Hershey, PA, Columbus, OH and more. For tickets and tour dates, CLICK HERE.
TPAC keeps the music going with a return to the 80s as the national tour of 'Flashdance: The Musical' sets up house from March 19-24. Then the beat keeps pounding when 'Rock of Ages' hits Music City for a two-night-only engagement at TPAC's Jackson Hall on April 19 & 20.
For tickets to this week's performances of 'American Idiot' or any of TPAC's upcoming shows, CLICK HERE.
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