Monday, June 18 , 2018, 3:27 am | Fair 52º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ in Los Angeles

Broadway musical chronicles the growing pains of three friends from suburbia

Near the beginning of the Broadway musical American Idiot, based on the Grammy Award-winning Green Day album of the same name and showing now through April 22 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, the main character Johnny (aka Jesus of Suburbia, played by Van Hughes) asks, “Oh my God, is this my life?”

His is a suburban life numbed by TV, beer and boredom, a sorry life shared by his friends, Will (played by Jake Epstein) and Tunny (played by Scott J. Campbell). The setting is mid-2000s Nowhere America, under the cloud of war in some far off land, and under the staging of a bunch of televisions and scaffolding.

The friends decide it’s time to move to the big city, in search of of something, anything else. “Are we gonna waste our lives, or are we gonna get the f*** out of here?” However, at the last minute, Will’s plans to move are thwarted — his girlfriend, Heather (played by Leslie McDonel), reveals that she is pregnant, and he begrudgingly stays behind.

Johnny and Tunny do escape to the city, but their paths diverge. Johnny walks alone on the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” before picking up a heroin habit, with drugs supplied by St. Jimmy (played by Joshua Kobak). He also gets a wild punk girlfriend Whatsername (played by Gabrielle McClinton).

Tunny instead just stays in bed watching TV until he makes a quick decision to join the military — motivated, it seems, more by a desire to have women find that sexy than to help his country.

In the end, Johnny cleans up but loses the girl, Tunny returns from war missing a leg but with a girlfriend, Will connects with his child although his girlfriend has moved on to someone else, and the friends reunite. All have survived their growing pains into adulthood, albeit probably not in the ways that they expected.

As an encore, the cast fittingly sang the Green Day song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” arguably the most moving part of the show: “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right / I hope you had the time of your life.”

The cast is outstanding, and there are definitely some inspired moments in the musical. The opening song “American Idiot” blasts with energy, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is particularly well staged, “When It’s Time” is movingly sung by Johnny to the sleeping Whatsername, and Tunny’s dreamed aerial ballet with a nurse (played by Nicci Claspell) during “Extraordinary Girl” is incredible.

The musical arrangements of Green Day’s songs by Tom Kitt work well, giving a Broadway treatment without losing the fire of Green Day’s anthemic pop-punk. And the band in the shadows of the stage really let it rip! I would have preferred the choreography to be a bit more inspired by a mosh pit as would befit punk rock, but it was certainly very energetically executed.

Special mention goes to a few old-school punk touches: There is a quote from the Dead Kennedys song “I Kill Children” (“God told me to skin you alive”), and Tunny has a Black Flag tattoo.

Tickets are still available for the upcoming performances, including balcony seats for as low as $25. That’s right, you can get a ticket to a Broadway musical for less than it’ll cost you for the gas for a round trip to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara. Give it a try — you just might have the time of your life.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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