Regional Reviews: St. Louis
So it is with Green Day's glorious 2009 "coming of age" punk-rock musical set in the aftermath of 9/11. Based on the Green Day CD (also titled "American Idiot"), the gleaming melodies and exciting rhythms that made it Album of the Year in 2005 are all there: striking one after another, sometimes overlapping thrillingly. And the young actors on stage make up for the script's slender characterizations with fantastic harmonies that tell a lot about the strength of their own brand of tribalism, in lieu of libretto.
It's the perfect musical for New Line, and for directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy: gritty and real, and entirely propelled by great music and magnificent singing under the baton of Sue Goldford. So many moments of outstanding vocal artistry come roaring out at us in the dark, sculpting (through punk rock!) and defining barely formed youth, that the characters become real in a way that reaffirms the highly poised "realities" of opera itself.
But isn't that the great riddle of the "rock opera" (or, in this case, the "punk rock opera")? Rock, like all "popular" art forms, tends toward the ever more personal; and opera, like all classical forms, hews strictly to structure and technique and a very particular canon (a.k.a., to the "impersonal"). And yet, somehow, both the popular and the classical merge seamlessly, getting their full due in this very intricately sung yet captivatingly natural and highly compelling production.
The sometimes frantic (but always perfectly choreographed) action in American Idiot finds three young men standing in the shadow of the international terror, and watching the rise of fascism at home, and pits them against all the obstacles that face all young men on their own for the first time in their lives. Evan Fornachon is excellent in the very demanding role of Johnny, consumed by the pleasures of New York; and Frederick Rice and Brendan Ochs are excellent as his friends: one swept off to Iraq for the well-documented anguish there; while the other seems almost mystically diminished in swagger and stature after his girlfriend's pregnancy.
Sarah Porter is Johnny's utterly marginalized girlfriend ("Whatsername"): still formidable, and outraged by his refusal to grow up, or even to grow at all. And Larissa White has a fine solo, in her panic over an "at-home" pregnancy test kit. Later, Chris Kernan (to our amazement) finds pathos in the role of an extremely cynical drug dealer, St. Jimmy.
American Idiot, Through March 26, 2016, at the Marcel Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. For more information visit www.newlinetheatre.org. Music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, with book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Musical Arrangements and orchestrations by Tom Kitt.
The New Line Band
The Artistic Staff