Sunday, February 19, 2012

Who is the Idiot?

Last night, we attended Green Day's American Idiot at the Oriental Theater in Chicago.  Before I get in to my deep thoughts about Billy Joe's foray in to musical theater or my opinions about how this musical/rock opera/whatever you want to call it stacks up with some of the other musicals I have seen, I need to share a few pre-show observations.

What crowd do you expect with a cast like this?  
A musical based on a Green Day album draws the strangest collection of people I think I've ever seen.  There were grown up punks who you could tell have moved on from their hard-living, but their faces and tight jeans tell where they've been.  There were the stodgy old theater goers that probably have "season tickets" and likely wanted to throw up 15 minutes in.  There was the middle-aged gay couple with the leather pants - not tight leather, loose "Van Halen-leather" in Natalie's words.  There was a group of teenage girls whose parents must have dropped them off, screaming intellectual things like "You're hot!" at the lead (when we saw them before the show Natalie asked if they got lost on their way to The Vow).  There was fat Harry Potter wearing shorts and a tshirt on a 30 degree night in Chicago, fashion-challenged Dorothy who needed to click the heels of her ruby slippers and return home to find some clothes that matched, and my personal favorite - the girl with the Green Day t-shirt.

I'm sure we've all heard the unwritten rule regarding wearing a Green Day shirt to a Green Day concert (or Counting Crows to Counting Crows, or whatever band to their own show) - but this girl must have needed an update to the rules for this situation.  My personal opinion is - not only is the tshirt a little too dressed down for the theater, but you can't wear the band t-shirt to the rock opera based on their album.  Though the next time I seen Mamma Mia, I might have to find an Abba shirt at Goodwill and blow some people's minds.

If you've gotten this far, I give you a choice - there will probably be spoilers in the coming paragraphs, so if you plan to see American Idiot at some point and want to be surprised, stop reading.
For me, having no idea what to expect heading in to the show made it just that much better.

The show starts with several audible clips from news stations, reality TV shows, etc. while a group of young adults is glued to the TV and almost immediately breaks in to the first song.  From the beginning I was a bit thrown off by the singing.  While the singing certainly wasn't bad, if you are used to hearing Billy Joe belt the songs off the American Idiot album, it is a bit disconcerting to hear others take on those tunes.

The show follows the lives of three friends - I'm fairly certain they have names, but they aren't important to the plot and I'm not sure what they are, so I'll refer to them as "Baby Guy", "Drug Guy" and "Army Guy".  By the names I've shared with you, you can probably determine where there lives diverge - one gets his girlfriend pregnant, treats her poorly and ends up alone, one gets in to the drug scene and the drugs win out over the other things that might have gone right in his life, and the other heads to the army, where he loses part of a leg.

There is obviously a great deal more going on here than just those brief descriptions, but that gives you an idea of the plot.  For the most part, Green Day's songs meshed perfectly with the flurry of activity happening on stage - including two characters doing a mid-air "dance" of sorts, a fairly graphic (for a musical) sex scene during my personal favorite song, Novocaine, and seemingly endless fights.  Even with minimal dialogue, it is easy to feel the characters' pain and anger, which are no doubt the two emotions that come forward the most.

I was absolutely entertained throughout the entire show, I was impressed with how they weaved the story in to the Green Day music, and I don't believe I've ever seen a theater cast enjoy themselves this much on stage.  What the show doesn't tightly wrap up is what we are supposed to take away from it.  I am not typically one to dwell on the overall "message" of a movie, play, etc, but this time I feel like I need to.

The explanation I received from my wife regarding the "message" that makes the most sense to me is the feeling of pointlessness that we all sometimes feel in our daily lives.  The three main characters each go their separate ways over the course of a year, only to wind up back where they started - with each other - and with little to show for the last year of their lives.  The beginning of the musical is a clear indictment on the things which capture the attention of our society - reality TV, sensationalist news and the like - but these themes don't seem to continue throughout the play.

Perhaps that's what Billy Joe wanted to do - to show us that many of the things we find important are absolutely not, and that when we go searching for meaning elsewhere (in sex, drugs, or government service) there is often not much more importance to find.  Natalie had some different views on this and perhaps I can even get her to write a guest blog and share her thoughts.  For me, it made me think - spurred some conversation afterwards and gave me fodder for a blog post which could have been far longer - so I think it did it's job.  My guess would be that everyone who sees this will take their own personal experiences in to the show and take something slightly different out of it.

It is difficult to compare this one to other shows I have seen.  The set background doesn't change, there are few original songs and there is no intermission.  It isn't your typical Spam-A-Lot, Wicked, Lion King or Chicago, but it holds its one with each of those and might have even received a more hearty ovation than any of those.

This one is not for the faint of heart.  I'm actually surprised we didn't see more people get up and exit the theater before it was over because of the language, sexual content, and simulated drug use.  Go in to this one open-minded and enjoy the ride - and if you don't know what to expect, spend 10 bucks and download the American Idiot album beforehand, which will prepare you well for what you will see.

1 comment:

  1. That is a great album to listen from start to finish. I was a bit surprised to hear them make a musical out of it, but it is a story that when listened to intently paints a bleak picture of the society we have crafted and how we fit in it. The difference in what some view as important vs what others view as important is always surprising to me.