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Green Day’s “American Idiot” Is a Hollow Rock Show

Mariah MacFarlane as Heather virtually stole the show with her powerful belt (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Mariah MacFarlane as Heather virtually stole the show with her powerful belt (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Musical theater is always looking for a reinvention. In the mid-1990s, Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking musical Rent reshaped the modern American musical and exposed audiences to what the form can be: it can rock. And since then, musical theater writers have been experimenting with the delicate art of the rock musical. It makes sense, then, that actual artists in the genre would become collaborators and writers on shows in development. A team of well-known theater artists, including director Michael Mayer (who helmed that other relatively recent rock musical, Spring Awakening), joined forces with Green Day, one of the more well-known punk rock bands from the early-to-mid 1990s and beyond, and delivered unto us one of the most unsatisfying pieces of musical theater I’ve seen in recent memory.

During Tony Award® season, American Idiot garnered a win for best set design (Christine Jones) and best lighting design (Kevin Adams), which are two of the strongest elements of this show, which played the Durham Performing Arts Center on April 29th and 30th. Green Day’s music is electric and engaging, especially when they tap into familiar tunes like the titular number, “Holiday,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” and “21 Guns,” among others. But the overarching problem is that the songs don’t flow cohesively. They seem wedged into a flimsy and wearisome plot.

The story centers around three wayward youths: Johnny (Alex Boniello, subbing for Jared Nepute), Will (Casey O’Farrell), and Tunny (Dan Tracy). The three make an attempt at breaking out of their stale state, though each ends up traveling down a different path, all tragic in their own way. The storylines come off as forced and hollow, lacking any real truth or emotional integrity. But let’s not undercut the talent in the show, which is strong. They just aren’t enough to save the material.

Alex Boniello’s performance was raw and vocally strong; Mariah MacFarlane’s Heather (girlfriend, then ex-girlfriend to Will) virtually stole the show with her powerful belt. It was good. But it just wasn’t enough.

I was surprised, and pleased, at the reception, however. Sometimes this edgy, in-your-face, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll stuff can really turn off local audiences. But Tuesday night’s group of DPAC patrons seemed to be pretty receptive -– even with the overt (even by my moral code) and prolonged depiction of sex. Maybe they just allowed themselves to be taken on the journey, no matter how troublesome it may be. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and check out for an hour-and-a-half and let someone else’s crappy existence unfold before you. Chances are, in the theater, and especially in Mariah MacFarlaneAmerican Idiot, they have it a lot worse than you do.

SECOND OPINION April 30th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/x483413680/REVIEW-American-Idiot-cements-Green-Day-s-place-in-music-history (Note: You must register to read this article) and April 24th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x1505312229/Green-Day-s-American-Idiot-rock-opera-coming-to-DPAC; April 29th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh preview by Larisa Mount: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Previews-Green-Days-AMERICAN-IDIOT-to-Land-in-Durham-This-Week-20140429; and April 24th Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Charity Apple: http://www.thetimesnews.com/lifestyles/lifestyles-home/elon-grad-hits-the-stage-in-durham-for-touring-production-1.309239. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the April 28th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/04/green-days-electrifying-broadway-hit-american-idiot-will-play-dpac-on-april-29th-and-30th/.)

AMERICAN IDIOT (The Durham Performing Arts Center, April 29 and 30 at DPAC in Durham, NC, in the American Tobacco Historic District).

SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/american-idiot and https://www.facebook.com/events/145198398978440/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMP-ZbnNvoU

TOUR CAST/CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.americanidiotthemusical.com/team.php.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, and https://twitter.com/DPAC.

OTHER LINKS:

American Idiot (2004 Green Day concept album): http://www.greenday.com/album/american-idiot (Green Day website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Idiot (Wikipedia).

Green Day (California punk-rock band, formed in 1987): http://www.greenday.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/GreenDay (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/GreenDay (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Day (Wikipedia).

American Idiot (2009 Berkeley Rep and 2010 Broadway musical): http://www.americanidiotthemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=485577 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/americanidiotthemusical (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/IdiotOnTour (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Idiot_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Billie Joe Armstrong (book and lyrics): https://www.facebook.com/BJAofficial (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/BJAofficial (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billie_Joe_Armstrong (Wikipedia).

Michael Mayer (book and director): https://twitter.com/MichaelMayerDIR (Twitter page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Mayer_%28director%29 (Wikipedia).

[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He is currently delighting Theatre in the Park patrons with his outrageous antics in drag as “Miss Texas” in TIP’s production of Pageant. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.

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