Reporting Sara Pelissero
Never before has a musical evoked such a strong desire to headbang from my seat.
“American Idiot,” now playing at the Orpheum Theatre, is a 90-minute non-stop energy rush, packed with emotion and impossible to resist. The cast is absolutely phenomenal — from the stellar star performance of Van Hughes (Johnny) to the incredible ensemble.
Though the show truly blew me away, I have to admit I was skeptical as I settled into my seat Tuesday night. I’ve heard these tired Green Day hits over and over and for some reason, I just couldn’t imagine a full musical derived from a punk band. Perhaps that was naive of me, but as a fellow theater-goer put it, “This is either going to be really good, or extremely bad.”
Lucky for us it was the former.
I’ll admit, it takes a little while to get into the ebb and flow of this rock musical. It’s almost completely dependent on the music of Green Day with little dialogue and only timestamps to move the story forward.
Still, that forces the audience to do something that is sometimes an afterthought with major hit songs — listen to the lyrics and focus on the story it tells.
In this case the music is elevated to a new platform, one that brings new appreciation to even the most overplayed songs. From the hard-hitting, rock anthem, “Holiday” to the somewhat melancholy rendition of “21 Guns.”
The choreography pairs the music beautifully, with plenty of headbanging and sharp, rebellious movements that turn the show into a moving, breathing rock concert.
While I was enjoying the raw anger and rage on stage, I couldn’t help but wonder how this Minnesota Nice audience would react to such blatant drug use, F-bombs and hoisted middle fingers. From my seat, I clearly noticed a few people awkwardly shifting in their seats and was somewhat horrified to see young kids watch a not-so PG sex scene.
That said, it seemed most attendees thoroughly enjoyed every moment, with some responding in true rock concert fashion, singing along and nodding out every beat. (Sidenote: At the after party, a cast member even noted Minneapolis provided one of their best crowds yet.)
The story ties in all your typical teenage angst themes — rebellion, confusion, exploration and desire. Following the choices and paths of three friends — Johnny (Hughes), Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) — “American Idiot” takes you on a wild ride through the ups and downs of leaving the familiar.
Some choices find our trio in peril while others bring new life — and all guarantee a fresh perspective.
I will say that being a fan of Green Day’s music and sure, even having an appreciation for Director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) is an obvious bonus here. And even then, there are times when the show takes a bit of an awkward turn. (I’m still trying to figure out how the flying dream sequence isn’t completely forced as an excuse for acrobatics.)
But as the curtains closed at the show’s opening night, I walked away with a new appreciation for a Grammy-Award winning band, the courage of a musical that’s not afraid to be different and a cast that managed to headband and sing all at once.
It’s true — “American Idiot” is not for everyone, but for those looking for an incredibly entertaining, high-adrenaline night at the theater, it’s a must-see.
“American Idiot” runs through Sunday at the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Orpheum Theatre. For tickets or more information, click here.
In A Nutshell:
Don’t Miss: The character Heather has the best local shout-out — she emerges on stage, covering her big baby bump with a Joe Mauer Minnesota Twins T-shirt.
Break-Out Performance: Hands down, “Holiday.” It was certainly the highest energy of the evening.
Fun Fact: Joshua Kobak, who plays St. Jimmy, was in the original cast of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.