Friday, December 30, 2011

American Idiot makes the most of what it is

I left on a five-month around-the-world trip in which I didn't listen to much music just before Green Day's American Idiot came out in September 2004, and I didn't appreciate how big an impact the album had on people after I returned home.

But it was enough to turn it into a stage musical, and it inspired me to write an column in October 2009 on the rock musicals I'd seen. I'll say up front that I'm generally not a fan of musicals and would prefer to keep my live music experiences in clubs and my drama and comedy in live or movie theatres where singing and dancing don't distract me from the dialogue, plot and character development.

American Idiot, coming off a successful Broadway run, launched its North American tour last night at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Like Tommy, it has an advantage with me in that I'm already familiar with the songs -- and I was already a fan of the title track, "Holiday," "Know Your Enemy" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends." The band (no, it wasn't Green Day), which was on stage throughout the 90-minute performance, had the musical chops to deliver the numbers.

But I found that with all of the dancing, movement and video screens that form part of the effective stage design (which won a 2010 Tony Award), I was often distracted and didn't know where to focus my attention -- except for when sexy Gabrielle McClinton (who plays Whatsername) was on stage.
The female cast members of American Idiot.

The rest of the cast is all very talented, and Van Hughes as lead character Johnny also stood out. But the character and plot and development revolving around three young suburban friends whose lives go in different directions are a little thin and left me wanting to know more.

The aerial acrobatics of Nicci Claspell (as The Extraordinary Girl) and Scott J. Campbell (as Tunny) added a lot visually as they flew through the air on harnesses, but it didn't really push the narrative along in an effective manner. The energy and enthusiasm of the performers can only take the material so far, and it sometimes seemed that they were trying too hard to take it farther.

I'm glad I got the chance to see American Idiot (even if I couldn't find anyone to take my second ticket and accompany me), as it's the type of performance that may draw a different type of fan to the theatre. And there's a lot to like if you're a Green Day fan. But as much as I was entertained, I suppose my inherent bias will probably never allow me to fully gush over a musical (and I've seen The Man in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, Camelot, Sister Act and Hair this year).

That said, Tommy is still at the head of the class.


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