If you’re in the mood for a punk rock opera, William Peace Theatre’s production of American Idiot might be just what you need. With music by the band Green Day, lyrics by Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong, and book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer, the show premiered in 2009 at Berkeley Rep and opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway in 2010.
Raleigh, NC director and choreographer Amy White has assembled an energetic cast; and musical director Matt Hodge, with himself on keyboards, supplies an eight-member band.
The story centers on three disaffected suburban youths — Johnny, Tunny, and Will. Determined not to become “American idiots,” they decide that they have to break out of what they feel is an oppressively humdrum existence. The plan is to flee to the freedom, excitement, and opportunity of the big city.
Will (Delphon “DJ” Curtis, Jr.) learns that his girlfriend Heather (Brenna Coogan) is pregnant; and he never makes it out. Tunny (Melvin Gray) is seduced away from big-city life and joins the military, finding himself soon shipped off to war. All alone, Johnny (Jarrett Bennett) eventually gets lost in the big city’s world of drugs. He forms a relationship with a girl named Whatsername (Julie Davis) and a friendship with the dangerous St. Jimmy (Bobby Simcox).
Ultimately, the play is about young people trying to find themselves in a world that seems meaningless to them, chasing vague dreams into dead ends, and finding a measure of meaning in “coming home.”
The leads and the ensemble all have strong voices. We were both impressed with the choreography. Pam, however, felt that the Kenan Recital Hall stage was a bit small (and therefore crowded) for some of the movements. Kurt, on the other hand, got the sense that the crowding accentuated the characters’ feeling of being cramped and suffocated.
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- We found it difficult to discern the lyrics in many of the ensemble songs.
- There were some problems with microphones that hopefully will get ironed out.
- The lighting plan called for lights to be focused on the audience on a few occasions. Kurt, especially, found unexpected lights-in-his-eyes (in a dark theater) to be down-right unpleasant.
Thursday night’s show was a definite crowd-pleaser. The audience erupted into applause and cheers on multiple occasions. We suspect that the majority of the audience was more familiar with Green Day’s music than we are. While a sing-through punk rock opera is not our cup-of-tea, we feel that we can recommend this show to anyone to whom the genre is appealing. Caution: adult language and adult themes!
William Peace Theatre presents AMERICAN IDIOT at 7:30 p.m. April 22, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 23, and 2 p.m. April 24 in the Kenan Recital Hall at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
NOTE: William Peace Theatre cautions ticket buyers, “This show includes adult language and situations and deals with drug use. [It is n]ot recommended for young audiences[, and] parental discretion [is] advised.”
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): https://twitter.com/MichaelMayerDIR (Twitter page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Mayer_%28director%29 (Wikipedia).
Amy White (Raleigh, NC director and choreographer and Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre and Theatre at William Peace University): http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre/bfa-faculty-and-staff (William Peace Theatre bio) and https://www.facebook.com/amy.white.927758 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.