It’s been almost three years since American Idiot started previews at Berkeley Rep, and since then I’ve seen the show six times. I saw it once in previews at Berkeley Rep, three more times after it opened at Berkeley Rep, once on Broadway at the St. James Theatre, and now the first national tour at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.
I saw the humble beginnings that led to many revisions at Berkeley Rep, the updated and “final” product when it landed on Broadway, and now the cleaner/fresher tour production. I still stand 100% behind my first review of the show.
That being said, I do have a few new thoughts about this particular production.
In its infancy the show felt (and I’m pretty sure was) full of raw, kinetic energy that was built by the amazing Berkeley Rep cast. The movements, the feelings, the vocal stylings were all original and 100% heartfelt. Now, the show has fully realized this energy but has crafted it into a slick product. Now I’m not totally sure if this is a bad or good thing.
A few positives: the cast’s vocals in all of the ensemble work was absolutely incredible. It was the best sung version I’ve ever heard — spot on. The musical director is cracking the whip! I understood more words than ever before which made the plot even clearer. The choreography was more precise and equally as effective as the vocal work. It definitely felt “choreographed”, instead of hap-hazard movements (which in earlier productions it did). The character development of all the main characters were also fully realized.
The direction, by Michael Mayer, was the best yet. The one thing you can say about Michael Mayer is he isn’t afraid of change and updates/revisions when needed. Few shows that go out on tour get a fresh look or new revisions, and Mayer definitely had a hand in updating the show again so that the touring audiences would connect even further with this piece. My hats off to Mayer.
Now the negatives: Before it felt like they were playing “themselves” (which in this show is a “good” thing), but now it felt forced in some of the characters and less authentic in that “punk-rock” sensibility. It felt less genuine than the original production. The costumes have also significantly changed from the Broadway version to the tour. To be honest, I didn’t see any of the “old” pieces in all of the grunge wear and in effect, it felt forced instead of original. The costumes’ color palate changed quite a bit, and again affected the overall “authenticity” of the piece. It looked more presentable, but in turn, changed the attitude of the piece.
Van Hughes, as Johnny, was leaps and bounds better than John Gallagher Jr. Hughes was able to create a character that delved into the dark, secretive life of drug abuse that was incredibly honest. Gallagher was completely self-indulgent throughout the show which kept Johnny less likable. This little change created such a different feel to the entire show just because the portrayal of Johnny was different. I was able to connect with the character on a whole new level, even though my life experiences and choices are extremely different than Johnny’s.
The overarching thematic material about twenty-somethings coming of age in this past decade rang true in American Idiot. But it didn’t ring true for everyone.
I definitely overheard an older women state as she walked out of the theatre during the awesome encore saying, “So much self-pity. It’s pathetic.” It’s actually not that surprising because sometimes when I see RENT, I want to scream, “Get a job!”. I guess it’s all a manner of opinion and taste, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the story that’s being told is interesting and relevant, especially to the youth of today.
It’s nice that the cast of American Idiot was able to get a “welcome home” of sorts at its opening night in San Francisco. It’s been quite the journey for this production and everyone involved should feel extremely proud of all of its accomplishments. It’s been incredible to follow this production from the very beginning to now and I feel privileged to have done so. This production broke so many normal “theatre etiquettes” and that’s the main reason I love it. It changed the face of American musical theatre and that’s what needs to continue happening to grab the attention of a younger audience.
It grabbed my attention and I have a feeling it will grab yours as well.
As I said before, I hella heart American Idiot.