The punk rock opera “American Idiot,” based on the American band Green Day’s phenomenally successful (15 million copies worldwide) album of the same name is holding forth at the Fox through May 4. You’ll notice this is a shorter run than most touring shows, so you must act quickly if you want to see it.
The Broadway director Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”) became mildly obsessed with the album after its release in September 2004; he began negotiating with Green Day after “Spring Awakening” opened on Broadway. He thought he saw a narrative line in the album that could be translated to the stage; Green Day agreed.
“American Idiot” opened on Broadway in March 2010, was nominated for a Best Musical Tony and won two, for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting.
You’ll see why if you go: Much of the back wall is covered with televisions, artfully positioned, and they make a stunning statement, literally and figuratively, in this “post 9/11” show. The band is onstage, and let’s just say there’s no trouble hearing them.
This one-act (about 95 minutes) sung-through rock opera centers on three disaffected young men: Johnny (Jared Nepute), Will (Casey O’Farrell), and Tunny (Dan Tracy). Johnny and Tunny flee suburbia (it’s called Jingletown, U.S.A.) and head to the city; Will stays home with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Mariah MacFarlane). Soon Tunny gives up on city life, joins the military, and is shipped off to war.
This comes as a shock; the entire show (and album) shows a struggle between rage and love, especially with Johnny, who is smitten with Whatshername, a girl in a window.
At one point four wounded young men are in a hospital (in the Middle East or Walter Reed?) and we know we’re dealing with the aftershocks of 9/11. The narrative sort of bounces around and can get confusing. There’s no question that if you’re familiar with Green Day’s album and its lyrics, you’ll enjoy the show more.
Nevertheless, the attractive, strong-voiced, energetic young cast is quite hypnotic. I had great seats (for which I’m always grateful!), and I found myself mesmerized even when I wasn’t sure how we got from point A to B. Other cast members, besides the above, include Olivia Puckett, Carson Higgins, Taylor Jones, Alex Boniello, Sean Garner, Antoine Holley, Francesca Granell, Michael Plato, and Turner Rouse, Jr. I expect you’ll be hearing from some of these again.
Unlike “Spring Awakening,” “Rent,” or “Hair,” “American Idiot” is not a character-driven show, and you certainly don’t know Johnny’s backstory, for example. This distances you from the characters, despite the actors’ best efforts.
But there are some compelling songs: “American Idiot,” “Jesus of Suburbia,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Give Me Novacaine,” “Last Night on Earth,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Homecoming,” and others. The music is by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; lighting design by Kevin Adams, and choreography by Steven Hoggett.
Back to those televisions. They’re on constantly. What are they saying? Do we attempt to anesthetize ourselves by television? Do we think salvation lies in our digital-electronic world? You decide. But with those warm-blooded, quite beautiful young people very much in your face, I think you’ll come to come to another conclusion.
For more information, visit foxtheatre.org.