Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Penned, like the lyrics for the album, to wail against the suburban life forged by the aftermath of George W. Bush's presidency and the war in Iraq, American Idiot stands as Green Day's angry, sometimes crude and politically charged, outcry for change from all that is wrong in the U.S.: social dysfunction, confusion, and culture wars, to name a few. Outré Theatre Company's earnest production of the high-energy, head-banging, two-act show does a good job of illustrating those themes, for the most part. However, there are some loose ends that could use some tightening.
Centered on three young men struggling to live substantial lives amid a sea of undesirable options, American Idiot tells the story of friendship and discontentment as these youth try to make things happen, but to no avail. Languishing in Jingletown, USA, under the influence of TV, Johnny (Dimitri Gann), the most motivated of the three, comes up with a plan and bus tickets to head for the city. A situation with Will's (Eytan Deray) girlfriend Heather (Jordana Forrest) detains him from going, so Johnny and Tunny (Patrick Rodriguez) sojourn alone, encountering new troubles, new foes, new loves, and disenchantment with urban living.
Set against a backdrop awash with color, Skye Whitcomb's red, white and black stage accentuates the passion, heart and soul that not only went into the creation of this musical, but also into Outré's rendering of it. The rich hues, evocative of bloodshed and darkness, put us in the right frame of mind to receive the events that unfurl: the youth try hard, get hurt, get lost, and get plunged into darkness.
American Idiot succeeds in making Green Day's music, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics, and Armstrong and Michael Mayer's book come alive. A very talented live band directed by Kristen Long is a constant presence onstage. Not only do these skillful musicians remind us that American Idiot is rooted in an album that is played in its entirety throughout the show, it also adds the realism of being at a concert and of having an orchestra. Unfortunately, the guitars are so loud, they drown out the lyrics and mute the performances of the actors. Whereas excessively loud, noisy and relentless music would be the norm and most welcome at a punk rock show, it does a disservice to connecting with the themes of this musical.
Luckily, Christina Battaglia's irreverent costumes and Jerel Brown's situational choreography portray everything the characters are going through, inside and out. With t-shirts showing phrases like "look pretty, play dirty", "trust no one" and images of a right-side up and upside-down cross, the subversiveness and rebelliousness that beats in the characters' hearts is almost literally worn on their sleeves. Johnny's bout with drugs, Tunny's stint in the military, and other poignant moments are aptly depicted in Brown's movements. From line formations to tapping a vein, the patrons of this show will get a visual sense of what's going on even if they can't hear much.
Of the ensemble, two drive home the message of angst better and above the rest. Nicole Dikun (Marquee Theatre Company's Dreamgirls) and Sara Grant (Evening Star Productions' Oleanna) shine every time they appear onstage, punctuating each move with a little more oomph than the others. Although this is a wonderful testament to their hard work and commitment, it just makes everyone else's slack more obvious during synchronized sequences.
Other standout performances are the vocals of Eytan Deray, as Will, and Hilleah Neve, as Johnny's girlfriend Whatsername. The characters' disappointments, matched with the actors' technical skills, are carried in their solos. They sing during some of the few times the orchestra quiets down for ballads.
The quiet doesn't last very long because, if the music isn't amping you up, the theatrics under Doug Wetzel's direction are. In addition to the choreography, the lighting and props contribute significantly toward making American Idiot look and feel like a concert. Guy Haubrich's lighting and projections dazzle us with shapes and configurations that simulate what Johnny is going through as he manifests St. Jimmy (Conor Walton). To further reenact the concert experience, Skye Whitcomb uses two triangular rolling ladders to create levels and dynamics. Moving the actors to and fro and up and down, the excitement climaxes when a woman with a burqa (Elisa Dannielle) descends the stairs, bringing Tunny's fight in Iraq to the forefront. Consequently, Dannielle also plays the role of Extraordinary Girl, Tunny's unlikely but true love.
Constantly pummeling us with emotionally raw honesty, American Idiot will resonate with many, especially millennials, who are fans of punk rock or are unhappy with President Trump, our relations with Korea, and the current state of politics. There is much to appreciate and admire about how this musical follows the album from beginning to end in narrative. And in the wake of protests and encouraging people to become aware of everything bad that's going on, this could be the new anthem of today's age, thereby fulfilling Green Day's desire for "American Idiot" the album to be timeless. However, the plot is thin, the transitions are abrupt in some areas and delayed in others, and the show is sprinkled with offensive moments and language. Hate it or love it, American Idiot leaves an indelible impression that you're not likely to forget for the next four to eight years.
Outré Theatre Company's American Idiot, through November 19th, 2017, at Pompano Beach Cultural Center at 50 West Atlantic Blvd, Pompano Beach FL. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. For tickets and information please call 954-545-7800 or visit www.ccpompano.org.