Northwestern’s own ‘American Idiot’ brings Green Day to Broadway

Northwesterns own American Idiot brings Green Day to Broadway

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

While watching the Green Day-inspired Broadway musical “American Idiot” last week, I found myself on the edge of my seat — anxious not about the plot but about the possibility of Communication senior Alex Nee’s neck breaking on stage. The constant head banging, flashing strobe lights and pounding rock music that filled the theater for more than an hour made for a wild ride that acutely captured the angst and apathy of suburban kids in the early 2000s. Nee, who took leave from school and his a cappella group Asterik to play Johnny, the show’s lead character, shines in this striking compilation of heart-wrenching anthems from our favorite middle school heroes.

“American Idiot” marks the relatively recent emergence of “jukebox musicals”— shows that refurbish previously released pop songs into musical scores. In this case, the 2004 Green Day album “American Idiot” caught the eye of director Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”), who teamed up with front man and lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong to bring the songs to life. “American Idiot” is a concept album revolving around three suburban teens — Johnny, Tunny and Will — who resent the government, their parents and the stifling suburb they live in. They yearn to awaken the country to their punk revolution, a message that is well suited for the stage, as we’ve already seen in angsty political pieces such as “Rent”, “Hair” and The Who’s “Tommy”.

And so, Johnny and Tunny head to the big city in search of a new scene. What they find is rampant drug use and an edgy anti-government movement that makes them feel more isolated than cohesive. Unable to handle the hard times of urban life, Tunny joins the U.S. Army, while Johnny resorts to excessive heroine use, egged on by limitless drug lord St. Jimmy (who is occasionally played by Armstrong). Johnny falls in love with a fellow heroine addict, and together their lives spiral into a blur of noise and surreality, which is well communicated through desperate, flailing choreography and poignant Green Day pieces including “Know Your Enemy.” After hitting rock bottom and threatening his girlfriend with a knife, Johnny realizes the need for a turnaround and tries, futilely, to keep a desk job. Failing that, he makes the downtrodden journey home to the tune of “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” Tunny, now an amputee, and Will, who stayed home with his pregnant girlfriend, meet him at the 7-Eleven of their hometown, hugging and sharing the silent understanding that the real world is hard and they’ve grown up a little.

The show make artful use of Green Day’s original music, rearranging pieces and stitching them together to create a patchwork of emotion and narrative clearly born from a very real place of anxiety. Nee’s gruff but dynamic tenor is well suited to the “Jesus of Suburbia” role, and his portrayal of the apathy and anger that define our generation makes the show more relatable to young adults than anything on Broadway right now. The choreography by Steven Hoggett is crucial to tying together the loose narrative structure, particularly when the rock music makes the plot-heavy lyrics difficult to understand. The absorption of major themes is further aided by the stationary set, which is comprised of dozens of television sets that occasionally broadcast visual accompaniments to the plot.

The show is excellent for what it is. That said, it caters to a very, very specific demographic, and anyone not sympathetic to that group will probably find it whiny and tedious. But personally, I’ll give it an A-.