American Idiot on Broadway: Not for The Young or The Squeamish

Posted in: Musicouching by georgecassutto on February 19th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Green Day’s music has arrived on Broadway. For some, the show will be an awesome experience, full of life and spectacle. For those unfamiliar with the music of Green Day, this show may not be the one for you.

Even though I am fifty, Green Day strikes me as one of modern rock’s most dynamic and energy-filled bands on the music scene today. They have been making music since the late 1990s, and their last two albums have won them awards and won over millions of new fans of all ages. The 2004 best rock album Grammy-winning American Idiot and it’s 2008 sequel 21st Century Breakdown have been reworked into a Broadway show. The music, choreography, costume and set design all reflect the teenage angst that Green Day’s image projects. The show was entertaining and powerful, but it deals with adult themes and provides disturbing images, so proceed with caution if seeing the show with children under the age of fourteen.

I had the opportunity to see Green Day’s lead singer and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong in the role of St. Jimmy at the St. James Theater on Broadway in mid-February of 2011. His wild antics and scary stage make-up placed him perfectly in the role. Moreover, he composed the music the cast was singing, and has been the guiding force for the stage production of the combined version of the CDs. The show was directed by Michael Mayer, who won a Tony for the 2006 show Spring Awakening. The two combined efforts to tell the story of three young men and their female counterparts, all whom experience some traumatic aspect of the years that George Bush was in office. One goes off to war in what is presumably Iraq or Afghanistan. Another one of the main characters lounges around his basement and gets drunk while getting his girl pregnant, while the main character becomes involved in drugs and exhibits an overall negative attitude towards society. Indeed, the main theme of Armstrong’s lyrics involves how we are all “controlled by the media,” so he doesn’t want to become an “American idiot.” In the end, they all find their way to become positive figures, a notion that I would think the rebellious Billie Joe might have had some trouble accepting.

If you’re a Green Day fan, the show is an uplifting and enjoyable experience. Even if you are not a follower of the punk trio, the choreography and voices on stage do a great job communicating the challenges of the time period for the young people who bridge the decades of this century and the last. Still, with characters shooting heroin and engaging in simulated sex on stage, it may be best to find a babysitter for children younger than, say, fourteen. By that age, young people have already been exposed to the rigors of our society in movies, on MTV and in musical lyrics, so it may not be as damaging as we adults might think. But the images will make you uncomfortable if you are seeing the show with your offspring. Maybe it will open an opportunity for discussion and dialogue between us baby-boomer parents and our kids. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Image by George Cassutto
Copyright 2011
Used with permission

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