Tony Vincent, Billie Joe Armstrong, Joshua Kobak, Andrew Call. I’ve been fortunate to see these four men perform St. Jimmy in American Idiot. My heart belongs with the St. Jimmy of Billie Joe Armstrong, while my head belongs to Tony Vincent. Armstrong brings himself to the role, as he is St. Jimmy, and he’s got the gritty balls to grab the audience by the throat and throttle them with his electricity. Plus, he just knows how to sing the songs that he’s spent so much blood and sweat writing and singing. Vincent, who left the show at the of end of 2010 after originating the role in Berkeley and Broadway, brought a magnificent voice and a slick and evil characterization to St. Jimmy. He was my favorite in the show even when I saw it back in Berkeley so long ago in September 2009. Kobak and Call stepped in as Vincent’s understudies for two shows that I saw, and while I thought their performances were solid (Kobak brought a bit of Vincent with him, while Call was hulking and sinister), they were not Vincent and Armstrong.
Now, there’s a fifth St. Jimmy, and her name is Melissa Etheridge.
Tonight’s performance was her first in an actual role on Broadway. She performed with the Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet, for a one-night jam performance back in June, so tonight was her actual debut as an actor. I’ve been a great proponent of the casting of Etheridge in the role. I love the non-traditional casting that American Idiot seems to be striving for, as they head into the days where Billie Joe Armstrong (who rejoins the cast from February 10th to February 27th) will permanently leave the role. I’ve heard rumors that they are contemplating various performers to take over the role after Armstrong leaves, and those of us who hang around the stagedoor talking to each other other joke about Keith Richards or Johnny Depp appearing. When Etheridge was announced, I was thrilled, not only because she was a woman, but she also has a great voice and excellent stage presence as a musician.
She started off with a burst of vibrant energy at the lyrics that introduce St. Jimmy to the audience… “Coming at you on the count of 1,2,1,2,3,4!”… as the audience, many of whom where regular suspects in attendance, shouted out the count along with Johnny (played by Van Hughes tonight since John Gallagher, Jr., is on vacation). It was a brilliant entrance and then… boom… for the first lines that she sang (“My name is Jimmy and you better not wear it out… Suicide commando that your momma talked about… King of the forty thieves… And I’m here to represent… The needle in the vein of the establishment), Etheridge completely lost the fast-paced rhythm. It was a bit shocking, but she ended the song on a strong note.
From that point on, I was worried that she would lose the pace again. After all, the music to American Idiot is fast pop-punk, and it’s faster than anything that Etheridge has ever put out and a completely different style and tempo. She never lost the pace again, but one thing that was noticeably different for serial attendees like me, was that the music had been slightly re-scored to fit her voice and rhythm. In essence, that’s ok, but I’m so used to hearing Armstrong or Vincent keeping up the pace that it bothered me a little bit. Her musical styling is so much different from the world of pop-punk, that there were moments were she wanted to bring her own voice and style into play, but the music of American Idiot doesn’t really allow for that.
Her best songs were “Know Your Enemy” and the Homecoming movement, “The Death of St. Jimmy,” both of which she knocked out of the house, particularly the latter. She brought a subtle nuance to the movement and less of the crazed and funny stylings of Armstrong or the evil intent of Vincent. For those who know the show, Johnny and St. Jimmy take their shirts off and draw hearts with lipstick on their chests. It’s easy for a guy to take their shirt off onstage (I’ve played a role naked once and let me tell you, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do as a woman), so instead of going shirtless, she took off an overshirt and revealed a t-shirt underneath that had a pre-drawn, bleached outline of the heart on it which she then traced. While the t-shirt was cool (I want one), the action itself unfortunately didn’t work for me as a staged moment.
I’m happy that American Idiot took the chance with Etheridge, a woman just a little older than me who has an amazing voice and exceptional stage presence. For her first night performing in such a role, I think that she did a good, if not exceptional job and the novelty of the gender-switch certainly works. She has huge shoes to fill and it’s probably a bit unfair to compare her with other St. Jimmys, but unfortunately, it’s a natural thing to do. Her chemistry and connection with Hughes was a little non-existent, but that also might be because it’s their first times together in front of an audience and Hughes hasn’t played the role of Johnny for very many performances himself. I do like the way he performs some of Johnny’s monologues, particularly before “Whatsername,” but I found myself wondering how Gallagher and Etheridge would have performed the show together.
On the whole, a female St. Jimmy works, though Etheridge (to me) lacks a bit of the power and fire that other St. Jimmys have brought to the role. I also didn’t see her as the character of St Jimmy, but as Melissa Etheridge performing the songs of St. Jimmy. Hopefully after one show under her belt, she’ll be able to quickly develop more characterization and less of a sketch of St. Jimmy. For hardcore Etheridge fans, she’s a must-see, by far.
ThatGirlAllison wrote a review here of the show and took a video of Etheridge’s Good Riddance encore, below: