American Idiot great Punk Rock Opera

Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) and Nicci Claspell (The Extrordinary Girl) Photo by Doug Hamilton

AMERICAN IDIOT: Rock musical. Music by Green Day. Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong. Book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Directed by Mayer. With Van Hughs, Scott J. Campbell, Jake Epstein, Gabrielle McClinton, Joshua Kobak, Nicci Claspell et al. Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St, San Francisco, CA. 888-746-1799 or

AMERICAN IDIOT Great Punk Rock opera is moralistc

AMERICAN IDIOT tells the story of three lifelong suburban friends who travel different paths seeking elusive quests to add meaning to their lives. The punk rock group called “Green Day” is the source for the music that blasts the rafters off of the Orpheum Theatre on opening night. Lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer created the libretto from the band's smash 2004 album adding seven songs including four from their "21st Century Breakdown" album. Berkeley Rep mounted a technically spectacular, loud, raucous show in 2009 and took Broadway by storm in 2010.

This Equity traveling show is even more loud and raucous and certainly is not designed to please the lady from Dubuque. But that is their problem. It is an incredible technical and visual treat with the caveat that strobe lights are over used and for some will dilute the enjoyment of the music. A number of the actors were recruited from the original Broadway cast and all expend enough energy in one night that would require many of us a full year to recuperate. That is the advantage of youth.

Contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s admonition, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, in the final scenes of American Idiot the protagonist, Johnny labeled “Jesus of Suburbia” (Van Hughs.), and his best friends Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) return home after a horrendous journey of rebellion. Johnny confesses to the audience that he is truly an American idiot for allowing drugs to wreck his life and that of Whatsername (Gabrielle McClinton) the one he has loved,. It is a pleasure to hear from one who has traveled the hallucinogenic path of many punk rockers to de-glorify the drug culture.

Director Michael has been practically canonized for his Tony Award winning Spring Awakening added to his acclaim with this show. The creators insisted during the Berkeley run that this is a “stage production with a story line.” Yet, it truly has the feel of a theatrical rock concert with a four story industrial backdrop studded with flashing TV sets imbedded in the wall (set design Christine Jones) to supplement the flashing psychedelic lighting (Kevin Adams) and grunge costumes (Andrea Lauer) of the 20 member cast and an 7 piece on-stage band that even includes a cello led by Jerry Stein playing keyboard programmed by Randy Cohen.

As mentioned all the cast members exude energy and display great dance moves (choreographer Steven Hoggett) emphasized by fantastic video and projections (Darrel Maloney). The cast is vocally very talented with the leads dominating the stage when it is their turn to shine.

This is a top-flight Equity tour that has been modified from the world premiere at Berkeley Rep. The major performers with the exception Jake Epstein’s monochromatic performance playing the underwritten role of Will, are excellent. Van Hughes (who played this role toward the end of the Broadway run) gives the role of Johnny a multi-layered quality. Scott J. Campbell is stolid Tunny who goes off to war and returns as an amputee. Joshua Kobak, who plays the drug dea;er St. Jimmy is formidable and gives that role just the right amount of terror. Gabrielle McClinton is spectacularly intense with her dancing as well as her singing. A real show stopper is earned by Jarren Muse who strips to his shorts and adroitly ends up dressed as a Black Army Recruiter and a red, white and blue back-up singers in the “Favorite Son” number.

If you are into punk rock, this becomes a must see production. Running time 90 minutes without intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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