Since their meteoric rise to international punk-pop fame in 1994 with their hit album Dookie, Green Day has inspired fans locally in the Bay Area and around the entire world.
Based on Green Day’s 2004 Grammy winning album American Idiot, the well-received Broadway musical of the same name returns to San Francisco for a brief run. The latest incarnation is just as exhilarating and packs enough wallop to satisfy grown-up fans fondly recalling the mosh pits of yesteryear.
At times, though, it feels like a diluted mall-punk pastiche designed to engage short attention spans and replace nuance and anarchic thought with innocuous clichés. If intentional, this oversimplification may be tongue-in-cheek and a tacit meta-theatrical nod to the generally accepted notion that discourse must be dumbed down to accommodate the American electorate.
Below are five reasons to check out American Idiot and decide what the performance means for contemporary American culture:
1. It’s a galvanizing 90-minute punk rock trip back to the turn of the 21st century that visually recreates what it felt like to come-of-age in the tense years and charged political climate following the events of September 11.
2. While the inane dialogue and gratuitous use of profanity can be disaffecting, American Idiot aptly portrays the ennui of three alienated misfits from suburbia—Johnny, Tunny and Will—who yearn for more than a life of couch surfing and getting wasted in the parking lot of the local 7-11.
3. The fast paced choreography and hypnotic neon visuals mimic the disjunctive media overload that leads the naive trio of lost boys to experiment with drugs, suffer the scintillating cruel anguish of war and experience the stress of young parenthood and broken homes.
4. Gabrielle McClinto shines in the role of punk rock rebel girl, Whatshername, the love interest of Johnny; and Van Hughes, as Johnny, performs with a panache that resembles Billie Joe Armstrong’s ferocious and endearing stage presence.
5. Multi-episodic track “Homecoming,” which marks the denouement of the musical narrative with the first interlude, “The Death of St. Jimmy,” or the destruction of the nihilistic self within Johnny, cleverly equates conformity (joining the corporate suit-and-tie workforce) with individual suicide and a loss of personal freedom.
Performances for American Idiot continue at Orpheum Theatre through July 8.