REVIEW: ‘American Idiot’ cements Green Day’s place in music history
“American Idiot,” the rock opera by Green Day, took the stage Tuesday night at the Durham Performing Arts Center and showed that you don’t need to wait until a band is retired to make a musical, you just need to make it good. “American Idiot” is. Here in Durham for two nights, it’s the tour of the Broadway show based on the California band’s 2004 album of the same title. “American Idiot” is about the coming of age of three young men wanting out of suburbia. It’s a universal story of being an angst-ridden young man who needs to go on an adventure – good or bad – to come of age. Alex Boniello, the understudy of lead character Johnny, performed Tuesday night and did a great job as the guy whose suburban angst results in urban drug addiction. Dan Tracy as Tunny, who joins the Army and goes to war, does a fantastic job as well as Casey O’Farrell as Will, the guy who stays behind on the couch with a pregnant girlfriend.
The show itself is 95 minutes of nonstop Green Day, so fans will enjoy it most. At first fans might be listening to how closely songs like “Holiday,” “American Idiot,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sound like Green Day, but once you are immersed in the show the songs take on a more universal meaning, and having multiple cast members sing them remind us these songs can speak for more than just a few people. The talent of Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day’s lead singer and writer, is on display in a different way with a musical and reinforces the band’s place in music history. It’s even better that 20 years after they came on the main stage musically, the band is still together and still making music.
Visually, the show works. There are multiple televisions mounted on a wall the height of the stage, with reminders of 2004 like clips of former President George W. Bush and other news of the era. To depict the Iraq War, green night vision videos of battle cements it as an immediate visual representation of that war. Audiences might think, has it been 10 years already?
It’s more than a groundbreaking musical that proves current music has a place in musical theater. For audiences in their 30s, it’s also nostalgia for those who didn’t think they were old enough for nostalgia in theater. Like “Hair,” “Memphis” and “Motown” will bring up memories for older audiences, “American Idiot” is one for the generation who is past college but not quite middle aged. It’s a time period when you can relate to some of the youth on stage but also want to tell them to quit whining and contribute to society already. It’s also a reminder of those you’ve known who never did make it off the couch, and those whose lives were forever changed by our modern wars.
Green Day’s songs – especially if first heard in youth -- take you back to a moment in time. Every song is tied to a memory, and “American Idiot” brings that into the big picture. This is a welcome addition to the Broadway canon and Durham is lucky it came through the city, even if for just two nights. The opening night audience included younger fans and those who reached adulthood way ahead of Green Day. But to show the universality of the sound, older audience members jumped to their feet to applaud. And outside after the show, a teenage boy waited by the stage door, the next generation of fans to discover Green Day.
Green Day’s “American Idiot” will be performed Wednesday night at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For ticket information, visit www.dpacnc.com.