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New York City - Theatre

 

American Idiot
Berkeley Rep
Berkeley, California
Through November 15, 209

Reviewed by Allison Ford

American Idiot, currently playing at Berkeley Rep through November 15th, 2010 will be coming to New York soon, and it wants to tear the roof off of Broadway. It just might do it, too. The orchestrations and vocal arrangements are incredible and explosive. The performances from the leading actors, including 2007 Tony award winner John Gallagher, Jr. are fiercely exhilarating. However, while the creative team was busy translating Green Day’s seminal 2004 album for the stage, they forgot one tiny thing. The plot.

Despite the impressive vocal gymnastics of the cast, and the chaotic staging that perfectly captures the “information age of hysteria,” American Idiot isn’t really about anything. You could make the argument that it’s about youthful apathy in the media age, or you could argue that it’s about the pressure to be artistically successful and the agony of selling out. But those are themes, not plots. Themes and moods are great in a musical, but they cannot substitute for characters, conflict, drama, and resolution.

For all of its in-your-face attitude and gloriously angry social commentary (and it does have both), the show fails to tell a fully realized story. It draws on the existing personalities from the album (like St. Jimmy and Whatshername) and fleshes them out a little, but never truly answers the important questions like Who are these people and What are they doing here. The songs are linked by a very tenuous arc involving three friends who try to venture out from their small town to make it in the big city, with three very different outcomes. Gallagher plays Johnny, the Jesus of Suburbia, everyman's anti-hero who ends up on drugs. Will (Michael Esper) hopes to leave the small-town life, but gets stuck when his girlfriend gets pregnant. Tunny (Matt Caplan) ends up in the army. It’s as if they used every angry-youth cliché in the book, and the result is caricature, not character.

True to the spirit of the album, it’s much more of a rock opera than a musical. It’s a little Tommy with a lot of Hair and a not-insignificant portion of Rent thrown into the mix. Like Tommy, it has amazing music. Like Hair, it has youthful rebellion and a chorus that plays various ensemble parts throughout the show. Like Rent, it has drugs and sex. But since the story is so thin, the songs just end up seeming like a series of vignettes. Some of the scenes make sense, but some, to be honest, don’t.

It’s not that the show doesn’t have its flashes of brilliance. Director Michael Mayer has worked much of the same magic that he did with Spring Awakening. “Favorite Son” deftly comments on how society fetishizes war heroes. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a quiet, acoustic moment in a show full of cacophony, and it gives the song an emotional weight it never seemed to have before. Yet most of the other songs end up feeling less like moments in a cohesive piece of drama than standalone musical numbers in a Green Day revue. By subverting the low expectations and giving the songs the dignity of a story to accompany them, the musical could have been surprising and powerful. Instead, it’s just loud and uneven.

American Idiot’s lack of a plot might not be its undoing. It’s still an enjoyable night of music, and frankly, many modern Broadway-goers may feel refreshed by a piece of theater that doesn’t challenge their thinking or broaden their horizons in any way. Plus, it wouldn’t be the first musical to succeed despite its apparent lack of plot. How many casual observers can really elucidate the plot of Hair or Tommy, anyway?

The most unfortunate thing about the show is that for all its talk about exceptionalism and rejecting modern commercialized values, it ultimately ends up embracing them by feeling like a mass-produced jukebox musical packaged for maximum box-office success. The show is an amazing concert version of the album, but not much more, and why should anyone pay to hear actors sing Green Day songs when they can sit home and listen to the band sing their own songs for free?

greenday.com/site/homepage.php

Update January 12, 2010:American Idiot, will move to the St. James Theater on Broadway this spring, in time to be eligible for the 2010 Tony Awards. American Idiot is scheduled to begin preview performances on March 24 and open on April 20, 2010.

 



Opa! The Musical
October 8 - 25, 2009
Queens Theatere in the Park

Reviewed by Tammy Scileppi

Opa!…an affirmation of life and love

Now is the time to grab a chunk of Broadway….in Queens. Yes, culture is alive and well in Queens. Opa! The Musical, playing at Queens Theater in the Park, takes hold of the viewer's senses and lifts the spirits. It’s a Greek tragedy put into music…with a twist. And, even though it’s not playing on or near Broadway, with the quality of acting and singing in this musical, it is definitely Broadway material!

Emotions run high on the tiny make-believe isle of Efia as our restless heroine, Sophia, narrates her life to a priest in a series of highly charged confessions. "Yaya," her ever-grieving, draped-in-black, mother reads the ominous coffee grounds in her cup that foretell the future of her family. The other characters seem to passively accept their dreary lives, but Sophia is hungry for more; she dreams about the “gold paved streets of America”. As passions between lovers, husband and wife, mother and daughter, flare, the truth is ultimately revealed and a lesson is learned by all: Sophia finally realizes that where she has been all along was indeed her true destiny. And the weary island folk, now happy and revived, sing and rejoice….!

The play’s message: We are but a speck in the Universe ((like Efia and its residents). It may seem that the daily details of our lives, our pathos and joy, our problems and unrealized dreams are huge and at times, overwhelming. As we struggle with disappointment and discontent, what we seem to forget is that sometimes, where we are, is where we were meant to be all along. So, be true to yourself and be open about who you are to others…. and always live the life of OPA!

The production received five awards from the 2008 Midtown International Theatre Festival. Opa! The Musical is part of the 2009 Greek Cultural Festival.

Book by Mari Carras & Laurel Ollstein
Music by Nicholas Carras & Donald Eugster
Lyrics by Mari Carras & Donald Eugster
Greek Choreography by Anthoula Katsimatides
Directed by Sam Viverito

An Equity Showcase Production Tickets $18.

Queens Theatre in the Park|Flushing Meadows |Corona Park


 

 

 

 


 




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