Wednesday, February 19, 2014

American Idiot Theatre Review

Dan Tracy, Jared Nepute & Casey O'Farrell (r)

Remember when being young was a good thing? I do; but just five minutes with the cast of American Idiot, and you're bound to ask, "What's with all the angst?" The 2010 2x Tony Award-winner opens with a barrage of negative news, displayed across a myriad of televisions atop a Rent-like set... followed by a crowd of performers bobbing their collective heads in anger, while singing their hearts out to Green Day's American Idiot. Whew. Let the pouting begin.

See, they're "not part of a redneck agenda," yet alone, "One nation controlled by the media." These 20-somethings are tense, loaded with anger and profanity. They have something to say; but they don't know what it is yet. You could argue that I'm out of touch (I prefer to think of myself as an aspiring curmudgeon) but truth is, I liked a lot of Green Day's music (minus the messages) back in the day. American Idiot, the musical does a wonderful job of relaying that music (two performers in particular, more on them later) but fails to reach someone my age with its characters, and the wayward directions they head in.

Jared Nepute as Johnny

Take Johnny, the show's star (brilliantly played by Jared Nepute.) He wants to skip town and find himself. Ditto for pals Tunny (Dan Tracy) and Will (Casey O'Farrell.) Trouble is... life gets in the way. A baby for Will, and a call to arms for Tunny. Johnny? He's busy serenading pretty girls, and taking a ride on the H-train (heroin abuse, never a laughing matter... but even harder to watch since the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman.) Sex, drugs and rock & roll seems like a rite of passage for guys like Johnny; but that doesn't make it any easier to watch. Thankfully, Johnny's paired off with the attractive and vivacious Olivia Puckett as Whatsername... who brightens up even the darkest of moments.

Puckett and Mariah MacFarlane provide the lion's share of entertainment, although their characters have little to do with the story: One has sex, and does drugs. The other gets pregnant, thereby throwing a monkey wrench into the future plans of Will (what about her?) Surely, there's a juicier female role than that? It's a shame too, because MacFarlane has a killer voice. Killer. Coming out with three pregnancy tests at once, after an initial positive earned lots of laughs too. Definitely keep an eye on this one.

Mariah MacFarlane as Heather

Puckett delivers megawatts of sex appeal and spunk; and more than holds her own against Nepute. She's an adequate singer, but outshines almost everyone else in terms of on-stage presence. Johnny gets to narrate, in addition to feats of physical fancy (jumping in & out of a shopping cart, and a perilous drop from a collapsing tower held down by his cast mates. He also gets to play his guitar with reckless abandon, in addition to performing the night's only solo ("When It's Time.") Toss in making out with the comely Puckett, and you can see why it's great to be the star. To his credit, Nepute performs each task with near-brilliant precision.

The rest of the cast is rather so-so (with the exception of Carson Higgins as the chilling/perfectly intense St. Jimmy, Johnny's alter-ego.) The dance routines are for the most part, uninspired... lots of jumping around, with little rhyme or reason. Some of the moves are repeated over and over again (and they're not good to begin with.) I wasn't expecting 42nd Street or A Chorus Line; but some semblance of poetic rhythm would have been nice to see.

Olivia Puckett as Whatsername

As I alluded to earlier, the stage feels crowded at times... too crowded. Exhibit A: Four hospital beds with four ailing soldiers, nurse/strippers and a belly dancer. WTF? Exhibit B: An army recruiter in tighty-whities, being pawed at by a quintet of Supremes wannabes. Exhibit C: Nepute & Puckett playing a game of Heroin Twister with a giant elastic band, while MacFarlane belts out, "Last Night on Earth," one of the evening's best songs. Too weird for me.

Oddities aside, you definitely won't be bored watching American Idiot (no naps, guaranteed.) The music is loud, and the action on stage even louder. It's fun at times, overly sad at others. The music isn't conducive to singing along with; but I saw more than my fair share of toe tapping in the Orchestra. It's a solid offering for a relatively new (less than five years) show... better if you dig the music, well enough if you're on the fence.

American Idiot appears at the National Theatre for a limited run, February 18-23. Tickets start at $48 and are available online (click here) or at the box office. There's also a lottery before each show, which gives you a chance to purchase up to two tickets for just $25 each. Click here for more information.

Grade: B-