Saturday, April 24, 2010

American Idiot

photo: Paul Kolnik

Green Day's niche and the secret to their cross-generational appeal is that their songs combine the brash anger of long-passe punk rock with insanely catchy pop melodies: their righteous anger is radio-ready enough for the bubble gum set to sing along with it. The distinction of their smash hit album American Idiot was in its timing: the band was raising a fist at knee-jerk post 9/11 patriotism just as mainstream youth were ready to brave a turn to the left. It's a huge disappointment then that the same-named musical based on the album doesn't honor this and lacks, except in the most generic way, political content. More like Movin' Out than Hair, but far less satisfying than either, the show amounts to a numbing 90 minute music video on stage. The cast is uniformly sensational, and the show's mix of performance and high-tech imagery brings to Broadway a brand of razzle-dazzle that concertgoers have been used to for decades. (The staging for "Wake Me Up When September Ends", in which the ensemble move while on their backs as if falling, reminded me of one of the dance ensemble pieces in David Bowie's Glass Spider tour, circa 1987). But since the story (of three buds - one who goes to war, one who stays home glued to the TV, and one who goes to the city and promptly gets hooked on heroin) is a well-worn cliche, and the show doesn't rally around any great theme besides "everything sucks", American Idiot succeeds only as spectacle.

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