Arts

THEATER REVIEW

‘American Idiot’ packs emotional wallop with Green Day’s music

 Scott J. Campbell (Tunny), Van Hughes (Johnny) and Jake Epstein (Will) in AMERICAN IDIOT (Photo by Doug Hamilton) 26idiot

Doug Hamilton

Scott J. Campbell (Tunny), Van Hughes (Johnny) and Jake Epstein (Will) in “American Idiot.”

“American Idiot,’’ the stage adaptation of Green Day’s 2004 album, is a sustained cry of anger, disgust, and longing, dramatizing the frustrations and fears of a generation that sees nothing but dead ends in what one youthful character calls “a land of make-believe that don’t believe in me.’’

DOUG HAMILTON

Van Hughes and Gabrielle McClinton performed in “American Idiot’’ at the Boston Opera House.

Feeling bad has seldom felt so good. The national touring production of “American Idiot,’’ with music by Green Day and lyrics by the band’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, has arrived at the Boston Opera House, and it is flat-out electrifying.

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Heaven knows there’s nothing new about youthful alienation and disaffection, and in its weaker moments “American Idiot’’ verges on empty, nihilistic posturing.

But more often the show delivers a raw, visceral excitement and an emotional wallop, fusing a host of scorching musical performances with convulsive choreography and arresting video projections that more than compensate for a simplistic story line (the show is almost entirely through-sung).

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Under the direction of Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening’’), who co-wrote the book with Armstrong, “American Idiot’’ comes to jolting life right from the opening number, the title tune, an angry anthem sung by the entire ensemble with a defiant refrain that more or less spells out the stance and the goals of the young and restless protagonists: “Don’t want to be an American idiot.’’


Van Hughes, reprising the role he played on Broadway, portrays Johnny, a young man chafing at life in the sterile suburbs, summed up in “Jesus of Suburbia’’: “I’m the son of rage and love / The Jesus of Suburbia / From the bible of none of the above / On a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin / No one ever died for my sins in hell / As far as I can tell / At least the ones I got away with.’’

With his friend, Tunny (Scott J. Campbell), he hits the road in search of adventure while another friend, Will (Jake Epstein), unhappily stays home with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather (Leslie McDonel).

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Arriving in an unnamed city, Johnny enters into a relationship with a young woman (played by Gabrielle McClinton), but he falls under the Mephistophelean sway of St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak), a drug dealer. Johnny’s heroin habit proves incompatible with romance.

Tunny, meanwhile, having entered the military, is sent to a war zone.

He is wounded, and in “Extraordinary Girl,’’ a spellbinding, hallucinatory sequence, Tunny and his nurse (Nicci Claspell) engage in an aerial ballet.

“American Idiot,’’ the album, was a product of the George W. Bush era, and the faces of Bush and Dick Cheney, former vice president, flash by in Darrel Maloney’s video projections, along with images of mindless consumerism, on nearly two dozen screens that are arrayed across a wall at the rear of Christine Jones’s industrial set. The emptiness of their media-saturated world is part of what Johnny and his friends are rebelling against.

Steven Hoggett’s dynamic choreography lends physical expression to the sense that these young rebels are kicking and chafing against the constraints and diminished expectations of their world. The spirit of desperation burns in songs like “Favorite Son’’ (vividly performed by Vince Oddo), “Give Me Novocaine,’’ “Know Your Enemy,’’ and “21 Guns.’’

But it’s not all a furnace blast of anger. There’s a touching vulnerability and a wistful beauty to tunes like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,’’ “Wake Me Up When September Ends,’’ and “Whatsername,’’ a lament for lost love and missed opportunities.

“American Idiot’’ doesn’t miss the mark very often. It may have been forged in the rage of a bygone time, but it has the urgency and heart of a work that just might last.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.
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