Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

American Idiot National Tour Puzzles and Assaults the Senses at the Paramount

Scott J. Campbell, Van Hughes and
Jake Epstein

A one-season wonder and Best Musical Tony nominee arrived at Seattle's Paramount Theatre in its faithful national touring reproduction as a part of the Best of Broadway series, whose audience is made up more of baby boomers than the young fans of Green Day, whose album the show is based on. Michael Mayer, the Tony winning director of the likewise Tony winning musical Spring Awakening, has assembled a terrific, talented cast and created a fascinating modern mass media-themed staging (with some wildly exciting choreography by Steven Hoggett) that assaults you with its eye-popping set, bedecked with video images on countless TV screens, and for which scenic designer Christine Jones, lighting designer Kevin Adams, and projection and video designer Darrel Maloney can take deep bows. That said, anyone with a propensity for seizures of any kind best stay away from this one.

Green Day lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong and Mayer's book credit for this show is as bogus as saying Jesus Christ Superstar or Tommy had books in a traditional sense, but what they did have was clear stories, and American Idiot is more a cross-section of character studies of the disillusioned youth (and aren't youth always disillusioned?) who go out into the world and have their broken romances, drug adventures, and limbs severed in a god-forsaken war, before returning home sadder and not necessarily wiser. I personally gleaned little else from the plot that I didn't have to look up in an Internet synopsis. As a Green Day novice, I didn't know the lyrics in advance, and was given little help in understanding them, due to the loud (however accomplished) sound design by Brian Ronan and sound equipment shortcomings at the Paramount.

But several songs, thanks to their music, made me think I may want to get better acquainted with them outside of the show, from the title song to "Give Me Novocaine," "Before the Lobotomy," and especially "Extraordinary Girl" and the haunting "Wake Me Up Before September Ends." The post-show encore number, with the whole cast on guitars, "Good Riddance (I Hope You Had the Time of Your Life)," is even that rarity in modern musicals, a song you'll be humming as you head up the aisle and out of the theatre.

Tom Kitt, whose Next to Normal score is the best of the decade thus far, is owed no small debt by Green Day for his stellar musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations.

And above all, there is that great cast; for starters, Van Hughes as Jonny takes an anti-hero/druggie and still makes you care for him, and what a pure, soulful voice this actor has! Tunny, the friend who goes off to war, is memorably and touchingly honest in the hands of Scott J. Campbell, and Jake Epstein shines as Will, the friend who never leaves the hometown and ends up in a broken marriage with a child. Joshua Kobak is a highly theatrical and powerful presence as drug dealer St. Jimmy, while Gabrielle McClinton, Leslie McDonel and Nicci Claspel have shining moments in the less-developed female supporting roles.

As a Broadway baby who came of age when Stephen Sondheim was the new turk on Broadway, American Idiot is still not my theatrical cocktail of choice, but you dear reader may well embrace it.

American Idiot runs through June 10 at the Paramount. For tickets or information contact Seattle Theatre Group at 877-STG-4TIX (877-784-4849) or visit them online at For more information on the tour, visit

Photo: Doug Hamilton

- David Edward Hughes

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