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Review: ‘American Idiot’ musical a shift from Green Day’s essence

Courtesy of John Daughtry

Fans looking for a Green Day fix might want to miss the play infused with the band’s songs that’s in town this week.
“American Idiot” the musical premiered in Columbus Tuesday night to a mostly full house at the Palace Theatre, though this was not the typical Green Day audience. A mix of seniors and middle-aged couples made up the majority of the crowd, while there was a noticeable lack of the band’s staple fan base: teenagers.
The show went through the “American Idiot” album with a few additional songs from other albums. Overall the singing was strong, but the female cast outshined the males.
The set was composed of a giant wall with several TVs showing different images for each song, such as former president George W. Bush flipping off the camera during “Holiday.” The cast’s costumes fit right in with the angst-ridden teen theme – they looked like something I might have purchased at Hot Topic when I was 13 years old.
The storyline didn’t really pick up until about 20 minutes into the show, when it became obvious that the three friends (Johnny, Tunny and Will) were heading off in different directions to shake off the boredom of suburban life. Johnny and Tunny originally headed to the city together after Will had to stay home on account of his pregnant girlfriend. The friends soon separated as Tunny became enamored with the idea of war while Johnny fell for drugs and a rebellious woman. The anger portrayed by the cast felt forced at times, not genuine hatred of “the man” and dysfunctional family lives.
The highlights of the show came in two supporting characters, Whatsername and St. Jimmy.
Whatsername, played by Alyssa DiPalma, had powerful vocals and palpable rage in songs like “Letterbomb” in which she berated Johnny for his drug habit. It seemed juvenile that such a powerful female would spend most of her stage time in her underwear or barely dressed, but it did help illustrate the sexual nature of her and Johnny’s relationship.
St. Jimmy, played by Trent Saunders, sauntered onto the stage looking like a space-age drag queen and provided an enjoyable vocal range and evil presence as Johnny’s drug dealer. It was not entirely clear by the end of the show whether St. Jimmy really existed or was simply a figment of Johnny’s imagination.
As a Green Day fan, I found some parts of the show disjointed from the story of the album. When Tunny is in a hospital bed after being injured at war, a flying phantom comes down to visit him and ends up as the girl of his dreams in a genie costume. The whole scene watched like a bad “I Dream of Jeannie” remake.
The dancing also seemed out of place. The cast would shimmy and shake like a cheerleading squad and in the next breath pull moves more in the vein of an MC Hammer video. None of this was what I expected from an album that usually produced moshing and stomping at Green Day concerts.
The show had one final flaw with not one, but two false endings. At the end of “Homecoming” the story seemed finished as the friends had come home and talked of their journeys. Then the show started back up with Johnny singing “Whatsername,” after which the cast took a bow and the curtain fell. At this point many in the audience had left, but there was one last hurrah as the entire cast sang “Good Riddance” with acoustic guitars, reminiscent of a camp sing-a-long.
Overall, the show was enjoyable for a musical, but being a longtime fan of the band and the album I couldn’t get past this frankly odd remake. If musical theater is your thing, give it a shot. But if you’re looking to hear Green Day, I’d wait till the band comes to town.
“American Idiot” is slated to continue at the Palace Theatre, located at 34 W. Broad St., Thursday and Friday with performances at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or the CAPA Theatre Box Office, located at 39. E. State St., and start at $28.

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