‘American Idiot’ musical delivers energy

Posted April 18, 2014


FORT LAUDERDALE — “American Idiot,” two-time Tony Award winner, hit the Broward Center of the Arts.

Comparable to “Rent,” this modern day show is geared towards people in their 20’s and 30’s with “Green Day” music from albums “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown”, rock-n-roll choreography complete with head banging, and strobe light effects.

If fans forgot for a moment that they were sitting in a theater and not a concert arena, they might think they were attending a concert rather than a musical.

High energy performances by the cast, supported a sometimes thin plot. There was very little acting in between songs and if the viewer hadn’t read a program with the synopsis, the actual storylines were sometimes hard to follow. Big moments, happened quickly and the musical as a whole moved fast, the entire show lasting 90 minutes.

american idiotHearing songs like “Holiday” and “Time of Your Life” brought to life offers “Green Day” fans an entirely new way to experience old favorites.

The musical brings the music of this well-known rock band to life in a groundbreaking way, illustrating the meaning behind each song through artistic expression accomplished by various set effects, choreography and acting.

The set was very modern, lots of steel scaffolding for the actors to climb on, mimicking apartment fire escapes, buses, and the like, two simple beds and a couch. Strobe lights, smoke, and a large collection of TV screens, added another dimension to the show. The TV screens either depicted images related to the subject matter of the scene, or gave a life feed of the performance from different angles, reminiscent of the kind of effects used at live concerts.

Intended for mature audiences, the play embraced the lives of many young people in a post 9/11 world. This included drinking, drugs, lots of f-bombs and sex. Typical of rock-n-roll culture, this is the kind of show with which more conservative audiences will struggle.

If audience members wouldn’t enjoy the sometimes raunchy subject matter of “Green Day’s” lyrics it stands to reason they shouldn’t be attending this show. A true expression of the vision “Green Day” had when writing the album, all lyrics for the show were written by Billie Joe Armstrong, who also wrote the book along with Michael Mayer.

The plot of the show tackles America in a post 9/11 world, when emotions ran high and paranoia was common. “American Idiot” the opening number of the show, introduces the performance and sets the scene with lyrics like “Don’t want to be an American idiot, one nation controlled by the media, information age of hysteria, calling out to idiot America,” that condemn the media and criticize the attitude of Americans who gave into fear and became addicted to their TV screens as they watched the news constantly.

This is told through the story of three best friends Johnny (Jared Neptune), Will (Casey O’Farrell) and Tunny (Dan Tracy), Will’s girlfriend Heather (Mariah MacFarlane) and Whatshername (Olivia Puckett), the love interest of Johnny. Johnny, Will and Tunny live in suburbia and fed up with their lives that are going nowhere, they decide to leave with bus tickets to the city. Shortly after deciding to leave, Heather Will’s girlfriend announces she’s pregnant and Will stays behind while the other two friends take off, seeking something more.

The story follows the three boys, checking in on Will who is shown back in suburbia with Heather, while exploring what happens to Johnny and Tunny in the city. They all experience joy, frustration, rage and confusion as they go on their own journeys of self-discovery and pain in a world that will never be what they expected.

While the show was enjoyable and had a clear message to it, some improvements could be made. In addition to the sometimes weak plot, the voices of the main actors were often drowned out by the background music. Whether it’s the fault of the actors whose voices weren’t strong enough, or the sound department, the lyrics weren’t always clear.

One standout performance was given by actress Mariah MacFarlane (Heather) whose voice was incredibly strong, clear and worthy of a Broadway performance. While others got lost in the mix, her powerful voice made her performance memorable, separating her from the rest who sounded more like members of a cover rock band rather than Broadway performers.

The highlight of the show was a surprise encore of “Time Of Your Life” a number where the ensemble stood on the stage with guitars in hand and sang the popular “Green Day” song earning claps, cheers and love from the audience.

Overall the show was energetic, compelling and worth the trip, something made evident by the standing ovation the actors received during the curtain call.

Though it could be improved by some changes to sound quality, this Off Broadway performance is a refreshingly modern tale that many young people living in America can relate to and enjoy. Green Day fans will love the music and theater geeks will revel in the way this play pushes boundaries and steers clear of the conventional.

  • Title: “American Idiot”
  • Actors: Jared Neptune, Dan Tracy, Casey O’Farrell, Mariah McFarlane, Olivia Puckett, Carson Higgins
  • Lyricist: Billie Joe Armstrong
  • Director: Michael Mayer
  • Book: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
  • Orchestrations: Tom Kitt
  • Choreographer: Steven Hoggett
  • Location: Broward Center of the Arts, Fort Lauderdale
  • Website: AmericanIdiotTheMusical.com