Tag Archives: Rebecca Naomi Jones

American Idiot On Broadway Preview and Opening Weeks

Green Day Over Broadway. Photo by Gavin Boyd, Rolling Stone

Four dates in the life of the Broadway baby called American Idiot stand out for me since seeing the show in Berkeley back in September: The invited Press and Fan Final Soundcheck on 3/23/10, the first preview on 3/24/10, opening night on 4/20/10 and the MTV Special Viewing that occurred on 4/22/10. Since I live in NYC, I had the great fortune of attending all of these special events. This post is a roundup of some of the goings on with the show this past month here in NYC.

Press and Fan Final Soundcheck 3/23/10

An unprecedented invited Press and Fan Final Soundcheck was announced through the Idiot Club and the American Idiot on Broadway Facebook page a few days before the show was to begin its first Broadway preview. The soundcheck press conference occurred in the middle of the day and I made arrangements with work to take a long lunch to go. I attempted to get a blogger press pass and wrote a professional letter to the show’s press agent, and included the name of one of my friends, a top NYC theater critic, who recommended that I write to them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded the courtesy of a reply. At least when I asked at Berkeley, they very kindly sent me an email saying no. I don’t want to sound bitter, but I know that both the production company and press agent for AI have come to this blog. Some sort of reply would have been nice, but I’m not legitimate enough for the courtesy of a reply in New York City. I even mentioned to them how I appeared in the Daily News regarding the show. In fact, several Facebook friends asked me “what I did for the show” and one of them, a television producer who I’ve known since acting school also asked me. And yet… well… whatever. No reply at all. At least a no is a response.

Putting aside all of that, the final soundcheck was a magnificent day. We waited outside for the Idiot interns to check us in, and they recognized me from the American Idiot On Broadway Facebook page and said hello. After about an hour, I went across the street from the theater to wait for the band to show up to take pictures, and shortly thereafter, Green Day was driven up to the theater and deposited at the front doors. I managed to snap two shots of Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre coming into the theater. It was nice to see Mike for the first time with his blond hair, and Tre was carrying what seemed to be a drumstick case.

American Idiot Soundcheck Billie Joe and Tre, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

American Idiot Soundcheck Mike, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

After they moved into the theater, I went back across the street to wait with everyone, and eventually, the first fifty fans in line, who had been told that they were going to sit in the Orchestra seats, were let in first. About 10 minutes later, the remainder of the line was shepherded into the theater up to the Mezzanine. The folks who had been told that they were going to sit in the Orchestra were actually sitting in the Mezzanine with the rest of us. Official word was that there were too many people in the press corps in the Orchestra, and needless to say, the first fifty fans in line were disappointed. I have a feeling that they were afraid that people would try to rush the stage and attempt to get autographs from the band or cast, a very legitimate possibility.

We bitched and moaned with them for a few minutes, and then the lights started to go down and the sounds of the opening strains of the musical — news and television clips from the Iraq War era — began to play. The huge red velvet curtain slowly went up and the cast stood onstage with their backs toward the audience (a definite and effective change from the Berkeley show), all looking toward the 20 or so television screens embedded in Christine Jones’s excellent set design for the show. The guitar riff to “American Idiot” began, and the cast was off, singing the title song to the show.

American Idiot Sound - Tre Climbs in Bed, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

AI Cast Headbanging During "American Idiot" Soundcheck. Photo by Green Day Mind.

After the song, director Michael Mayer, Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool, and Mike Dirnt walked onto the stage to loud claps from the crowd in the peanut gallery. Mayer spoke for a bit about the show and his inspiration and collaboration with Billie Joe on the book. Billie Joe spoke, then Mike, and Tre said something for a second. While Tre was talking, Mike and Billie climbed into the onstage bed prop, the cast piled on top of them, photo ops were had by all, and the event was over. I went back to work while the rest of the Green Day Community gang hung out and went to lunch. Green Day and the cast headed over to Sardi’s, a famous restaurant down the street from the St. James known for its Broadway clientele for more interviews with the “legitimate” press.

All in all (and despite my bitching), the press conference was a great way to start off the feverish run of American Idiot in New York City. The celebration lasted for a solid month and ended with a spectacular bang with good reviews, solid changes to the show, a special MTV showing with the band, hanging with old and new friends, and one of the best After Parties Ever — two appearances by the fabled Foxboro Hot Tubs (more on the latter in a later post).

APRED Clip of American Idiot Cast Singing “American Idiot” and Press Conference, 3/23/10

More of my pictures from the Press and Fan Soundcheck may be found here.

First Preview, 3/24/10

I didn’t intend to go to the first preview and hadn’t bought a ticket for that night. My first “official night” of seeing American Idiot was actually scheduled for 4/7/10,  but a bunch of Idiots had traveled from around the country to come into New York to see the show, and one of them, sadly, couldn’t bring her friend as planned because of her friend’s cancer treatment. She had an extra ticket so I offered to give her some cash for it (which I still have to do), with the proceeds going toward her friend’s cancer fund. The show at this point was in the working stages from the move from Berkeley to Broadway, and they were working kinks out and adjusting to the larger set and staging of the show. I was quite impressed with the changes in the choreography, the storyline, and the passion that I felt from the cast. Over the course of time from the first Preview to Opening Night, I saw the show three times (3/24; 3/27 and 4/7) and noticed that there were several changes and reworkings during that time until Opening Night and the MTV Special Viewing. (All together, between Berkeley and Broadway, I’ve seen the show seven times.)

Green Day, of course, was there that night, and it was a three-ring circus! Their wives and kids were in the audience and just before the curtain went up, Billie Joe’s bodyguard (a nice guy who I’ve spoken with a few times who does an excellent job of crowd control and protecting Billie Joe) brought him down to sit next to Adrienne. They were so damned cute together, too. I didn’t stare too much, being the nonchalant New Yorker that I am, ahem, but of course, a stare or two couldn’t be helped during the show. There was a palpable excitement and nervousness in the air as the audience, clearly in the show’s corner for an exciting time, was bouncing up and down in their seats in anticipation.

After the show, the circus continued outside. I’m not a fan of getting autographs or photos with famous people, so I just hung around outside until I could find the contingent of folks I had come to the show with. The sidewalk outside of the St. James was packed with people, and many folks had to stand in the street just to let people pass through. Of course, those of us standing in the street kept getting yelled at by cops and security to get out of the street. I would move along, put a foot on the sidewalk, and then head back into the street while people crowded the sidewalk.

Here’s a video link to the scene outside of the theater on the first preview.

Billie and Adrienne and Rebecca Running to Sardi's after the first preview. Photo by Green Day Mind.

American Idiot First Preview After Show Madhouse, 3/23/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

Eventually, the cast started to roll out of the theater on their way back to Sardi’s for the preview after party. They were asked for autographs (you can see Stark Sands, “Tunny” being mobbed in the photograph below), and after it calmed down a bit more, probably 30 minutes or so after the show when some of the crowd had dispersed (but not by much), Tre kind of quietly walked out a side door to the restaurant first, followed later by Billie Joe, Adrienne, Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatsername), Mike and Mike’s wife, Brittany. My friends and I went down to Sardis and stood outside for a bit, watching Tre stand in the window of Sardi’s looking down at the crowd. Girls were screaming up a storm, and I’ve got a bad reputation for telling them to shut up (sorry, I just hate screaming girls or boys, my bad), so after awhile, I got tired of the spectacle and headed back down to the theater. Tony Vincent came out and we said hello to each other (we met at Berkeley and spoke online during the Berkeley run), and eventually, John Gallagher, Jr. came out of the theater, after most of the crowd had dispersed or were at Sardi’s. John knows me by name (probably because I drunkenly told him at Rockwood that he needed to bring more of the angst and also from talking with him at the Character Approved Awards a few months ago), so it kind of shocked me that he remembered my name.

John Gallagher, Jr. at Rockwood, 1/18/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

When I first saw the show at Berkeley, I wasn’t impressed with his performance, but then again, I had major issues at the time with the entire show. My biggest concern was that during the Berkeley run when I saw it, I didn’t see the seriousness of the material coming from him nor did I feel the depth of the character. I also say that off-Broadway runs and previews are the time for steeped criticism, particularly in regards to something one feels passionately about, and I’m a jaded theater person from back in the day. If everything is perfect at the beginning, there is no room for improvement. And shows and performances can always be improved. John steadily won me over, as I was pulling for him, particularly after I saw him perform his own material at his residency at Rockwood on the Lower East Side this past January. He’s a heartfelt kid, super-sweet, and a talented dude who obviously is in love with this show and the band. Watching him grow into the role of Johnny has been a pleasure and I give him all the kudos in the world for a brilliant and successful run. And I hope he gets a Tony nomination as well. American Idiot is one of the most bone-breaking shows I’ve seen on Broadway. These kids, led by Gallagher, throw themselves around that stage, and every night Gallagher leads the way. I’m sure it’s not easy.

My Wall Signature.

Once John went inside the restaurant, things got pretty tame outside of the St. James, but people were still bat-shit screaming in front of Sardi’s. The kids outside couldn’t get into the bar at Sardi’s, but since my friends and I are of age, we hung out in the bar at Sardi’s and talked with the bartender who has worked at Sardi’s for years, a real old skool New York character. Outside some of the kids were yelling up to the 2nd floor window asking that Billie make an appearance and show them his tattoos. He did, and then one girl screamed for him to sign her arm for a tattoo when he left the bar and he mimed that he would.

At some point during the night, I went upstairs to the bathroom, where the after party was taking place, and walked right into Brittany Dirnt. I didn’t say anything to her. Heck, what are you going to say to someone in the bathroom? When I walked out, Mike was on the phone near the bathroom and Gallagher was hanging out talking with people. I went back downstairs and chatted for a bit longer. I left at 12:30, but the others stayed until 1:00. I guess I should have stayed for another 1/2 hour, but I had to work the next day. From what I understand, the cast and eventually Billie Joe came out of the party and Billie Joe asked for a “fucking” cigarette. (Yes, he does smoke on occasion, get over it.) My friend who had taken me to the Preview was just about to put a cigarette in her mouth and instead, she gave it to him. Bonus! LOL. Oh, and he did sign the girl’s arm, too.

Here’s a video of Billie at the Sardi’s window and coming out of the restaurant, with cigarette and signing.

Opening Night, 4/20/10

American Idiot Opening at the Irish Rogue. Photo by Michael Gary.

What can I say about Opening Night? By this time, I had seen the show three times in New York, and I was ready to just sit back and enjoy what was about to happen. The opening was a star-studded event, with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Michael J. Fox and Donald Fucking Trump… oh and a bunch of Idiots who are stars in my book. I didn’t see the Donald, and that was probably a good thing, but I did see the other three, and that was a good thing, too.

Green Day Bracelets in Front of the St. James, Opening Night. 4/20/10.

We Idiots met for dinner and a powwow at the Irish Rogue, having snacks and drinks. Carolyn had brought new Green Day Friendship bracelets to the theater, and she had an extra one and gave it to me. I already had one, but I took it anyway, in anticipation of seeing the show with Becky Walter (of the Facebook page Green Day LIVE on Tour) on 4/22/10. Becky was flying in from Minnesota to New York for the first time ever for the MTV Viewing on 4/22.

We walked down to the site as a group and got more excited as showtime came closer. Our seats were in the balcony and with the crowd, it took a bit of time to get up there. I wasn’t sitting with the Idiots from the restaurant, unfortunately, but I was anticipating meeting up with two special friends, Rachel and Michelle, who were sitting next to me. We three had shared some incredible moments out in Berkeley over the last few months, and Rachel was there to help manage the Mystic Knights of the Cobra tour that was starting the next day and Michelle is the spectacular photographer who took photographs of the Pinhead Gunpowder show back in February. She’s also the girlfriend of the bassist (Jim Graz) of Honah Lee, the accompanying band with the Cobras on their Party! Party! Party! Tour of the East Coast. The tour had been something I was hella looking forward to for months now, and I knew that when I saw them, that the REAL party was about to begin. More on that in a coming post.

The audience, if possible, was even MORE excited to see the show than on the first preview. Everyone was dressed to the nines and there were a few times when the audience shouted out lyrics to the songs with the cast, which was very exciting. I loved it.

After the show, we made our way downstairs and waited around for a little bit to say hello and goodbye to people. We were standing in the St. Jimmy Bar and as I was trying to walk into the area, my bag poked Ed Norton really hard in the ass. (Lucky bag.) He turned around and I apologized, and he smiled, and since I was looking hella good, he looked for a bit longer than usual. And I let him. Haha. And then I turned away and decided that the only thing I wanted to do was leave and hang out with Cobras and start the next phase of this wondrous opening week. So we hopped in a cab and went downtown.

The Real Party Begins. Hanging with the Cobras in the East Village, 4/20/10.

I did not go to the Opening Night Party, but the Green Day Community’s Katie McPansy Grogan won the American Idiot on Broadway Facebook contest. She had a fabulous time in NY, got to meet the band, interviewed Rebecca Naomi Jones, had excellent seats, and went to the After Party. I highly recommend visiting Katie’s Video Blogs of American Idiot on Broadway Opening.

A Shout Out to Nicole.

Lastly, a word of thanks to Nicole Gary. Nicole and I met on the Green Day Community and have been theater buddies in NYC since then. We were also in the Daily News photo shoot together back in March. She told me on opening night that she had attempted to get me a press pass for the After Opening Party festivities and had almost succeeded, but things didn’t work out. Thank you, Nicole, for believing in me and my blog, and for being a good buddy. I appreciate your friendship.

MTV Special Viewing, 4/22/10

J’net (an awesome moderator at the Green Day Community, thank you!) had bought us tickets to the 4/22/10 showing when tickets first went on sale. At the time, tickets weren’t on sale for Opening Night, so 4/22 was the next best thing going at the time (and it proved to be pretty amazing). I was hoping for something weird and special, as I had heard that weird and special things might happen on this night, so I was in weird and special mode. When tickets went on sale on 4/1/10 for Opening Night, I regretted my decision a bit to attend this performance. The Cobras and Honah Lee had played the night before at Arlene’s Grocery, and they were off to Asbury Park for a show at Asbury Lanes. Truthfully, I wanted to be with them as I don’t get to see them very often. But, we make our choices and I had to work on Friday anyway, and ok, shoot me, since all in all, I’ve been way lucky and it’s all good.

Minnesota Gal in NYC. Becky of Green Day LIVE on Tour Comes to NYC.

Things always work out best for those who love the Lushie Gods. Becky Walter, a friend of Niki Lee’s (Seize the Green Day), had won tickets to the MTV Special Viewing but was a bit panicked about making her first major trek from a small town in Minnesota to New York City. I had seats in the Mezzanine that night, but I told her that I would help her navigate through Manhattan and she gave me her second ticket. Niki, Dorie and I talked her through it and encouraged her to take the bull by the horns and conquer her fear of coming to NYC by herself. After all, we don’t bite… hard… here. We told her it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and she really wanted to come see the show, and having free tickets was half the battle since the ticket prices can be high. She flew in the day of the show, walked to my work to pick me up so that we could navigate down to the difficult to find Pop2Life offices for the tickets, and then whizzed uptown to meet folks at the Westway Diner for dinner. We proceeded to the venue a bit later and I gave her the Green Day Friendship bracelet that Carolyn had given me the day before. Our tickets were in the left Orchestra, not far from were I sat on the night of the first preview. Also, by Becky giving me the ticket, Andres from the Green Day Community was then able to share this special night with everyone by taking my original Mezzanine seat with J’net, Dawn, and Sherri. The Lushie Gods are good!

As the show was about to begin, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool family members walked in and filled the seats in the Center Orchestra. Billie Joe’s mom is the cutest thing ever, and she was beaming from ear to ear. Adrienne walked in with her and sat about two rows from us. As the curtain bells were ringing, The Edge from U2 entered and sat in the Center Orchestra not far from us, followed by Tre, Mike and Brittany, and finally, Billie Joe, who sat in the aisle seat next to Adrienne. Needless to say he caused a stir when he came in, but then the lights went down and the curtain went up.

Is this thing on? Green Day sings during American Idiot on Broadway. Photo by Green Day Mind.

It was kinda funny looking at him as an audience member. He was mesmerized by the show and his mouth was kinda hanging open in amazement the entire time, but something kept distracting him and he ran out of the theater twice during the performance, but came back in. Just as the show was ending, Green Day left the theater and a stage tech brought two mikes onstage. Afterward, the band took their rightful places onstage with their kids, the cast of American Idiot. Billie Joe had some issues with his guitar set-up for a minute, but they worked it out and he noted that it was “his first time on Broadway.” The crowd stood up as they came on and were treated to the “real” version of “American Idiot” and a great rendition of “Basket Case.” The month-long ride from Preview to Opening was complete, and this new baby called American Idiot was on Broadway.

Y’know what… I missed seeing them onstage

Green Day sings on Broadway, 4/22/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

Green Day sings on Broadway During American Idiot, 4/22/10. Photo by Green Day Mind.

All in all, it has been a great ride with American Idiot, and I’m glad that the show is up and running and is good. It’s gotten exceptional reviews for the most part, and ticket sales are good. It’s fucking up Broadway, and in my book, that is always a good thing. I’ll write up something one day with my thoughts on the actual production, but really, just go and see it and make up your own mind is all that I can ultimately say.

I will say, though, that seeing Green Day back onstage made me realize how much I just wanted to see them perform again. The cast is great and the score is wonderful and kudos to everyone involved in the show, but Green Day is… well… Green Day. I silently offered supplications after the MTV Special Viewing, “please let the Foxboro Hot Tubs play a show this weekend, please let me get to see it.” Cause you know what? There is nothing like Billie Joe, Mike and Tre onstage together. And luckily, the Lushie Saints granted my wish. Twice. More on that in a later post.

And with that, faire thee well, American Idiot on Broadway. May you have a long life and prosper, may your actors stay healthy with no broken bones, and may you always Fuck Up Broadway.

After the break, stay tuned for ToniAnn and Fallyn on MTV being interviewed about the show and some additional links.

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Character Approved Awards with American Idiot Cast and New AI Trailer

American Idiot on Broadway 30-second Promo – HOT!

Last Thursday, during a massive snowstorm here in New York City, the Second Annual USA Network Character Approved Awards honored ten artists in the fields of film, writing, music, design, and charity. One of honorees was the band Green Day, mostly featuring Billie Joe Armstrong.

I wrote last week that my friend, who has been helping me with excellent buddy-passes for cheap flights to California to see Green Day perform at Fake New Year’s this past November and to see Billie Joe jam with his side project, Pinhead Gunpowder, in February (see Michelle Lawlor’s awesome photos of that here), was invited to the awards with his roommate, who was blogging about the event. Needless to say, I was a bit jealous of the fact that he was going to this event, particularly since neither one of them were into it as a whole. I (halved) jokingly railed on my friend that it wasn’t fair that he was going and that I couldn’t. At the same time, I made sure to remember that the Lushie Gods are good to those who spread the Lushie karma around, so I was keeping my head on straight about the entire thing, until the day the awards happened and I was like, oh shit, really, you get to go and honor my favorite band on Earth AND see the cast of American Idiot perform?? No fair! LOL.

A few hours before the event, my friend phoned me and asked me a magical question: would you like to go to the event with my roommate? My frozen New York winter heart melted then and there and said, “well, I look like crap, there’s no way I can go home to change before the event, and yes, I’d be happy to go!”

We arrived at the Frank Gehry-designed IAC building on the West Side Highway, where the event was being held at 7:00 PM and despite the horrible weather outside, the place was crowded. We checked in, I went to the bathroom and breathed, and wondered if the band would show up. They didn’t show up, but after a few Maker’s Marks with coke (sacrilege, I know), I drank in my disappointment and enjoyed my anticipation of the performance by the American Idiot cast.

I waited for the event to start by standing near the front of the stage where the cast was to perform, and ran into a fellow that I knew from New York University back in the day and chatted with the bartender who kept my double Maker’s Mark glass full. The people around me were really nice and I made a dude laugh when we talked about the winter weather and how much he loved it but I hated it, and then I called him “Honey” for some reason, and he cracked up to no end. I blame my reverse misogyny and verbal diarrhea on the Maker’s Mark…

USA Network Character Approved Awards American Idiot Cast Stage, 2010

USA Network Character Approved Awards 2010

Royal Pains star Mark Feuerstein introduces Characters Approved


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Two Nights with an American Idiot, Part II: The Arrangement and The Cast

Green Day's American Idiot at the Berkeley Repertory Theater

Green Day's American Idiot at the Berkeley Repertory Theater

I’ve been struggling with this post. My home computer also went bust. It’s not been the easiest to critique Green Day’s American Idiot, and it’s gotten to be quite long, so I’m going to break it up into several posts. The first one focuses on The Book. The second post will focus on The Arrangement and The Cast; the third and last on The Choreography and The Direction with some concluding remarks.

The Arrangement: Tom Kitt’s score does justice to and expands on Green Day’s music through the music and vocal arrangements. Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt have great voices and are able to lay down some smooth emotive harmonies between them, but hearing American Idiot in song layers with choral intensity by a strong vocal cast is a treat. Comprised of the entirety of American Idiot, plus two b-side cuts from that album (“Favorite Son” and “Too Much Too Soon”), it’s combined with four songs from the band’s current record, 21st Century Breakdown (“21 Guns,” “Last Night on Earth,” “Before the Lobotomy,” and “Know Your Enemy”) and joined by a beautiful song never before recorded (though heard somewhat in the unreleased AI documentary Heart Like a Hand Grenade), written by Armstrong for his wife, Adrienne, when he was 19 (“When It’s Time”). It’s 90 minutes filled with a strong five-piece rock band joined by three strings of violin, viola, and cello.

American Idiot Song List

American Idiot Song List

Kitt masterfully takes the orchestration for a choral ride while keeping the structure of the original music intact. It’s loud and bombastic when needed, tempting the Green Day fan to bop their head but probably leaving traditional theater goers wondering if they are allowed to tap their feet. Having sat through another rock and roll musical a lot lately, Lizzie Borden (full disclosure: I was in the original production of this show which depicts America’s favorite 19th-century murderess, Lizzie Borden, and love the music, literally, to death), I find myself during that show one of the few people in the audience willing to move my head at all during the production. I feel like a freak sometimes because of it, but you know, you have to do what you have to do. I will admit that on the first night of seeing American Idiot, I fell into the “audience member who refuses to move” theater etiquette category.  I was in a hyper-critical mode because frankly, while I have no stake in the production of American Idiot, I want it to be as successful and as good as it can possibly be and not an embarrassment. I love this album too damned much. Since I’m not the greatest fan of traditional musical theater (and frankly, American Idiot borders more on the side of traditional musical theater than not), my hyper-critical critic’s cap was firmly screwed onto my head the first night. On the second night, I decided to ride the wave and was swamped by the musical tsunami. The music is the star of the show.

As I mentioned previously, the book is a bit rushed through due to the timing and intensity of the musical and visual onslaught, leaving the cast with little time to really portray the emotional quality of the louder and faster songs. One of my few critiques of the music is that the cast hasn’t completely allowed themselves to wrench the emotional velocity of the music out of Green Day’s hands and own it. Sure, the cast has a surface of emotion, but anyone can sing Green Day songs loud. My question to the cast is: can you feel them loud? Once they firmly and unequivocally do that, I can only believe that they will find the emotional heart-shaped hand grenades of the material.

Some of my favorite arrangements were “Holiday,” “Favorite Son,” “St. Jimmy,” “Give Me Novacaine,” “Before the Lobotomy”/”Extraordinary Girl,” “We’re Coming Home,” “Whatsername,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Letterbomb” and “21 Guns” (though the choreography for “Letterbomb” and “21 Guns” had some unfortunate moments visually for me), primarily due to the arrangements and emotional depth that the actors were able to find in the performance of them. (I’ll talk about this more under The Cast section.) “Give Me Novacaine,” started off by Michael Esper, has just the right touch of pathos and reflection to get the song’s emotional arch off to a good start. By the time Tunny finds himself in the war zone and under attack from a blaze of hard-hitting drums, guitars and the electronic boom of cannon and strobe lights, “Give Me Novacaine” becomes the most successful combination of music, staging, and acting with “Before the Lobotomy”/”Extraordinary Girl” coming a close second.

Kitt nicely overlays and intertwines some songs, such as “Know Your Enemy” with the refrain “nothing wrong with me, this is how I’m supposed to be…” from “Jesus of Suburbia,” and it works particularly well with “Before the Lobotomy” and “Extraordinary Girl,” from two different albums. While I’m not a huge fan of the staged flying that takes place during this song combination (it always reminds me too much of Peter Pan), the fly work was moving, particularly for me on the second night. I could almost feel the morphine dripping through Tunny’s veins as he and the Extraordinary Girl made their way through the upper echelons of the open theatrical space.

“Death of St. Jimmy,” “East 12th Street,” Nobody Likes You,” “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” and “We’re Coming Home” (songs that comprise “Homecoming” from the album) are arranged as one continuous song bringing the story to its whirlwind denouement, though “Nobody Likes You” is also appropriated for a portion “21 Guns.”

The vocals particularly soar when the parts are given over to the women: Mary Faber in “Dearly Beloved” and “Nobody Likes You” (parts of the “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming” movements), Rebecca Naomi Jones (“Letterbomb”), Christina Sajous (“Extraordinary Girl”) and Alysha Umphress, who plays Heather’s friend during “Too Much Too Soon.” Armstrong’s high voice translates well for women (Faber was just fantastic) and I loved the hearty primal scream that Jones let out during “Letterbomb.”

All in all, I thought that the music was fantastic. It’s not a Green Day concert and fans looking for that experience are seeing the wrong show. On the whole, the music was vibrant, exciting, and the band sounded great. While Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre might lurk onstage psychically for the Green Day fan, after a while the band and the cast come pretty close to making you forget that Green Day are not onstage. And that is rare feat, indeed.

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“You have to search the absolute demons of your soul to make a great record.” — Billie Joe Armstrong on making 21st Century Breakdown

The Cast: Rolling Stone previously ran a nice piece on each of the cast members of American Idiot, which you can view here. You can also view a .pdf of the American Idiot program here.

The cast, among them young veterans of Broadway and off-Broadway such as John Gallagher, Jr. (Spring Awakening), Tony Vincent (Rent), Mary Faber (Avenue Q), and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Passing Strange), is strong and talented. All have amazing voices and they obviously love the music, are incredibly enthusiastic, and are having, as the song goes, the time of their lives (shoot me for even going there). It’s a treat to hear them sing. The entire vocal cast is phenomenal. There’s not a bad voice in the house, and some rise to the challenge of bringing both the emotional quality of their parts together with the songs, particularly Tony Vincent (he’s scary dynamite as St. Jimmy), Michael Esper and Mary Faber, Joshua Henry as the Favorite Son (a cameo anyone would drool over to have), and Matt Caplan.

John Gallagher, Jr’s voice is strong; he sings and performs the songs well, but unfortunately, I could not believe him in the role of Johnny nor the essence of the relationships that he as Johnny, has with Will, Tunny, Whatsername or even St. Jimmy. He never seemed to completely personify the angst and rage — the absolute demons of his soul as Billie would say– that the character obviously possesses. He seemed overwhelmed and flat in the role to me, and not the vibrant, enigmatic character that is sketched out in American Idiot. As the whirlwind center of the impetus to get Will and Tunny to leave Jingletown, the one that gets Whatsername to shoot up despite her reluctance and the one who conjures up his deepest, darkest evil as St. Jimmy, he’s the tornado that sweeps everyone into the vortex with him. And when he realizes how destructive his demons are, how close on the edge of destruction he is, he’s got to claw himself up from the abyss in a real, heartfelt way that should have torn my hand grenade heart out and made me want to throw it far away from everyone to keep them safe.  The music did this for me on the second night and not his portrayal of Johnny. (I keep coming back to the “Heart Like a Hand Grenade” metaphor; I’ll talk about this more in the conclusion… if I ever get there…)

In the slight monologues that he’s given he often sounds canned, as if he’s screaming the letters home instead of expressing his inner life. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s how he’s been directed by Mayer, I suppose, but he unfortunately brings little variety or emotional depth to the inner monologue that he’s presenting or range to the character. Some may view this as my not being able to remove Billie Joe from the American Idiot equation or thinking too much of the intensity of the AI music videos created by director Sam Bayer, and this may be true to some extent. Ultimately, while I enjoyed his performance, per se, I was not convinced that his rage and love led him to his dark persona of St. Jimmy, which left a one-dimensional Johnny for St. Jimmy to play off of. Sadly, for me, he’s not the right actor to portray the part, but he is a good actor and I hope that he soon embraces the demons and develops a deeper portrayal of Johnny.

I was so torn about the above that I asked Dawn (another diehard Green Day fan and theater buff), who went out to Berkeley to see the show what she thought of Gallagher. Her response was similar to mine, but she explained it a lot better in the following :

I agree with everything you write. My problem with him as a character is “I don’t care if you don’t care” — which is ok as sentiment in the show but not ok if that’s the way the audience feels about the lead character. And I do think it’s largely the delivery of the few spoken “letters” — if he’s so disillusioned by his parents and everything in Jingletown then why the hell is he writing them? You don’t get that from the letters — even the one he sends to Will. It’s all random rage. And we get that. We lived through the Bush administration, too. And there’s nothing I would have liked to do than to tune in, turn on and drop out. Certainly the time to do that is in your late teens / early twenties. But Johnny needs to believe that he’s dropping out to something better and you just don’t ever believe that he remotely thinks that he’s doing that — whether he’s going to what is clearly NYC or returning home. The rising and destruction of expectations is what makes that character human, and I don’t think Gallagher delivers that nuance. So he remains very two dimensional, which is not ok if that character is the most fully developed character. All the other characters are foils. And if their character’s development directly reflects the main character development, then they become one dimensional (as is clearly evident for Will, Tunny, Heather, and Whatsername). Only St. Jimmy really escapes that trap because he IS Johnny’s Id or addition. To me, that was the most fully developed character and the dude’s not even real. Which brings Gallagher’s shortcomings even more to the fore.

I’ll have to expand more on what Dawn writes above in The Direction section because I think it weighs directly on what needs improvement in the show. But for now, the rest of the cast:

Tony Vincent, as Johnny’s doppelgänger, St. Jimmy, grabs the character by the throat and never lets go. This glammed-out hardcore has issues and he doesn’t give a shit about how much danger or turmoil he creates in the lives of those around him. It was a treat to hear Vincent sing “St. Jimmy” and “Know Your Enemy” as his voice is the strongest of the cast males and is as clear as a bell. As a huge fan of the song, “St. Jimmy,” Vincent had a big challenge in my eyes, as of all the songs, it’s difficult for me to view “St. Jimmy” outside of Armstrong’s live performances of the song as he chews up the stage and spits out the audience. If there was ever a fan moment of Billie Joe’s shadow onstage for me, it was during this song. Vincent made me (almost) forget Billie Joe and I commend his performance of it as well as relished the moments he had onstage.

Michael Esper as Will probably has the easiest storyline to portray of the three friends, as the reluctant, bitter and unready father and distant boyfriend. He also has the most emotive of songs, the first part of “Give Me Novacaine” and “Nobody Likes You” and both of his turns singing these songs got to me. I almost felt sorry for him during “Nobody Likes You,” even if the character is such a terrible and irredeemable, lout. Esper portrays a quiet and persuasive melancholy as Will and he and Mary Faber as Heather, who I thought had the most resonant female voice in the cast, were quite believable as the harried and young couple.

Matt Caplan gives a solid performance as well, especially since he doesn’t have that much time to establish why his character one minute is melancholy in the city and the next minute is joining the army. He and Christina Sajous have a nice chemistry during “Extraordinary Girl,” and Sajous, who graduated from my Alma mater, Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (as did Theo Stockman from the chorus) uses her body and voice extremely well during this sequence and during the raucus bus ride to the Big City during “Holiday.”

Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatsername was powerful and worked well as Johnny’s love interest. I was a little confused script-wise how she changed from the sweet girl who Johnny spots in the window to the helion in “She’s a Rebel,” with a purple streak in her hair, but maybe I was just missing something. Her portrayal of the character was good though I wish she had more to play off opposite Gallagher. There was one moment in particular that I connected to in her portrayal of Whatsername and that’s when Johnny convinces her to shoot up for the first time, the look of terror and trust in her eyes was a nice touch. She was also fantastic at capturing much of the raw grittiness of “Letterbomb,” a perfect song to tell Johnny off after he pulls a knife on her. Unfortunately, I was distracted somewhat by the choreography of this song with its “Acid Queen” arm windmills that made me cringe. The Broadway aspects of the choreography didn’t sit well with me throughout the show, but I’ll have to explain what I mean in the next post.

On a last note, Dawn hit a vital point in regards to the characters: they are, with the exception of St. Jimmy, one-dimensional. But as with the choreography, I’ll save that for the next post… and hopefully I’ll get there…


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