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Cincinnati by Scott Cain

American Idiot
Aronoff Center

The Cast
American Idiot is not your mother's Broadway musical. Heck, it might not even be your sister or daughter's Broadway musical. Featuring the songs of Green Day, this show, as demonstrated by the current national tour playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, resembles a rock concert more than a traditional theater piece. Despite great performances and some rockin' songs, one's enjoyment of the musical may largely depend on expectations and point of reference.

American Idiot is a stage adaptation and expansion of a Green Day concept album of the same name. The story focuses on three socially detached friends—Johnny, Will, and Tunny. Johnny and Tunny abandon suburban life for the big city, while Will stays behind to be with his pregnant girlfriend. Quickly sick of the city, Tunny joins the military, and goes off to war. Meanwhile, Johnny gets hooked on drugs, and Will's girlfriend leaves him. They all search for meaning in their lives that seem to be going nowhere.

The book by Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer lacks much in the way of character development and emotional or story depth. With only minimal dialogue, the story is communicated more through direction than lyrics or a traditional musical "book." Most of the songs come from Green Day's American Idiot album, but a few are pulled from other Green Day material. With music by the entire band, and lyrics by Mr. Armstrong, there are some solid punk rock songs mixed in with some solid ballads, some with catchy tunes and introspective lyrics. A number of the songs, such as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "21 Guns," "Wake Me Up When September Ends," and the closing "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," will be well known to many younger theatergoers and are quality songs. However, the score really doesn't do a good job of presenting the story or characters. Great vocal arrangements and orchestrations from Tom Kitt are a welcome asset to the production as well.

Director Michael Mayer does what he can to convey a clear story and presents a number of songs in a winning theatrical manner and proper tone which help give the show what depth it has. Most effective is his staging of "Holiday," "Favorite Son," "Are We The Waiting," and "Too Much Too Soon". Choreographer Steven Hoggett captures the angry rebelliousness of the characters through sharp movements and non-traditional dancing. The five-piece band led by Evan Jay Newman sounds great, but is far too loud to allow for many of the lyrics to be understood, further hampering the communication of the story.

The energetic cast of seventeen pours a lot of energy into this 90 minute one-act show. All of the leads are great singers/vocalists without exception. But, however talented they are, Jared Neptune (Johnny), Casey O'Farrell (Will), Dan Tracy (Tunny), Olivia Puckett (Whatsername), Carson Higgins (St. Jimmy), Mariah MacFarlane (Heather) and Taylor Jones (The Extraordinary Girl) can only do so much to shape sympathetic and multi-dimensional characters given the material.

The design for the tour is smaller than it was on Broadway. The set by Christine Jones consists mostly of some aptly used TV screens, a piece of scaffolding, and a modular staircase. The suitable lighting by Kevin Adams has much the feel and look of a rock concert, and the costumes by Andrea Lauer carefully balance the line between the rawness of the source material and setting while also having some effective theatrical details.

American Idiot is a great show for fans of Green Day (and will be an introduction to live theater for some) and may be enjoyable to those with informed expectations. However, in spite of the talented performers, the lack of well-defined characters and story may leave traditional theatergoers underwhelmed.

American Idiot was performed in Cincinnati from April 11 12, 2014 at the Procter & Gamble Hall - Aronoff Center for the Arts. For more information on the touring production, visit

-- Scott Cain

Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule

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