Monday, September 7, 2009

American Idiot: the Musical

I went to see a preview performance last night of the new stage musical adaptation of Green Day’s album American Idiot. Technically it doesn’t open for another week or two, and I’m not sure when the “official” reviews will hit the papers. I can’t resist writing about it early though. Don’t worry. I won’t ruin anything for you.

I should preface things by the fact that American Idiot is one of my favorite albums of all time. As such, I really didn’t let myself create any expectations around the show. I didn’t really read anything about it. I didn’t let myself get too excited about it. I mean, it wouldn’t be them singing. What would it be like really? I didn’t even realize until the day of the show that it included some songs from Green Day’s new album 21st Century Breakdown.

I was fortunate enough to have really good seats. Diana and I were in the 3rd row, center. Close enough to see each little sweat bead roll down the actors’ faces. Close enough to see every expression. Close enough to see the second set of stage underwear they had on under their costume underwear. Close enough to have all of our senses completely over stimulated as opposed to the run-of-the-mill over stimulated you’d get at the back of the house.

Damn, it was good.

They do a really great job of taking a fairly abstract narrative from the album, tweaking it and adapting it, and turning it into something a little bit more concrete, a little bit more followable without making it too “on the nose”. They weave in songs from the new album as well as a few b-sides from American Idiot to tell the story of 3 friends as they move from youth into adulthood. It’s a coming of age story with a punk sensibility. Sure some of the character development in the beginning is clunky, but by the end all is forgiven.

Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the best songwriters, perhaps ever, but certainly of his generation. There, I said it. And if you doubt that statement at all, wait until about halfway through the show when they sing the amazingly beautiful love song "When It’s Time". What? You’re a big Green Day fan and you’ve never heard of that song? That’s because Billie’s never recorded it. He wrote it for his now wife when he was just 19. If he’d written that song for me, I would’ve married him. Or at least let him have his way with me; although, that might have been awkward because he’s so short.

I know he’s so short because, as Diana and I were walking out, we discovered that the person who had been sitting behind us who, out of the corner of my eye, had looked like a short teen-aged punk youth in an over-sized ball cap and hoodie was actually Billie Joe Armstrong. We finally noticed because we were right in front of him and his wife as we were all walking up the aisle out of the theater and some fan girl came barreling down in the opposite direction through Diana and me to get to him.

I thought about saying something to him, but all I could think of was a lame “great show.” Realizing I have absolutely nothing in common with him that could sustain a conversation beyond a fanboy “love your work”, I just tried to hide my excitement and keep walking. Diana and I quickly replayed what we had been saying when he was most likely in earshot (things like “The music’s so great, it’s hard not to enjoy the show” -me and “I bet my parent’s will love it” -Diana).

Then we went home and buzzed around the house for a few hours before the adrenaline rush of the show wore off.


I will throw in one note, the show does suffer slightly from Peter Jackson Multiple-Ending Syndrome. That’s largely Green Day’s fault because the 2nd to last song on the album "Homecoming", ends with such finality. Diana, who is not as familiar with the album as I, thought it was the ending as did a fair portion of the audience. Whereas I was sitting there thinking “no, this can’t be the ending! They have to play the last song,” because the last song is my favorite song on the album. They do sing the last song as a sort of epilogue that reprises snippets of choreography from pretty much the entire show to wonderful effect.

Everything about the show is well done: the costumes, the set, the choreography, the performances, the musicians. Even the use of multi-media worked very well for me (and often that doesn’t). Other reviewers I’m sure will write about those things in more technical detail, for me they were just drops in the over-stimulation bucket.

American Idiot
runs through October 11 at Berkeley Rep. Buy tickets online here.


  1. Billie Joe Armstrong is certainly one of the best songwriters ever. That should not even be a dispute any longer. I am not going to be able to see the show. I live in New York and my parents won't take me all the way to Berkeley. My aunt and uncle said they would but they are on vacation during all the possible dates I could go. Oh well enough of my whining. This review has got me very excited. After seeing Green Day live for the first time the energy I felt after the show was incredible. I couldn't get to sleep that night. The fact that this show has that same effect on people gets me very excited. I am very anxious for more reviews. Thank you very much for this post:).

  2. Hey I sat in the third row too, but on the end, with Tre Cool right behind me. It was indeed amazing, so much so I saw it the next night as well. It was also incredibly fun to talk with the actors after the show. John Gallegher Jr. (who plays the lead role of Johnny, or Jesus of Suburbia) is one of the nicest and down to earth people I have ever met, and the majority of the cast is the same way!

    I am hoping to go back and see it again later in the season when it is in its final form, since changes are being made between now and the 16th.

  3. Alan!! Nice write up about the musical...Im going to give u a 'shout out' on Star 101.3 today after 1pm and will mention ur story ;) Lisa Foxx :)

  4. Thanks Lisa! I'll be listening. And I'm going back to see it again in October.

  5. I'm getting an adrenaline rush just from reading this.
    Why, oh why does there have to be an atlantic ocean between me and berkeley? *cries*

  6. We must have been sitting really close to each other as Blly Joe was behind me and two seats over. Having come all the way from Canada I cannot begin to say how excited I was to see him sitting there!!! I felt very fortunate to have had the chance to meet him before he was bombarded by the rest of the crowd. I too wished I could have said something more than "great show" but alas I was startstruck. He was kind enough to pose for a photo and I think he was quite humbled by the whole experience. (not me, the musical)

    I look forward to hearing how your second viewing goes. Being so far away I won't have a chance for round two....unless, sorry until, it makes to NYC.

  7. I think we saw you get your picture before we'd recognized him! Again, thinking he was a much younger fanboy himself, we assumed he was just getting a picture to commemorate seeing the musical. If only we'd noticed him sooner we might have gotten our own pic.

  8. Saw the show September 10. Speechless.

  9. We were in the 6th row center on opening night and you pretty much hit it right on the mark! We could feel the electricity in the theatre as soon as we walked in front of the theatre! Tre Cool shook hands with us, Mike Dirnst was sitting two seats to the right of us and Billie Joe was 2 rows behind us. The show was incredible and as you noted we were awed and over stiumulated by everything that was happening on the stage and by having Green Day in the theatre! The cast was fantastic and what more can be said about the music! We just got tickets to attend the last performance in November! Words can't describe the joy we felt!

  10. I came all the way from Victoria BC to see the musical with my boyfriend
    and we had the best time ever...we did not get to see Green Day themselves but the music was the most gorgeous and powerful...arrangements made me cry...I was so emotional that I feel something has changed in me....I met John Gallagher...and Tom Kitt the arranger..It was a blast and I love Berkley so much I think I am considering moving there! not kidding! :) we are trying to spread the word here in Canada...I am good at spreading the love! :) Suzanne from Vic

    Glad all of you had such a grand and wonderful time!


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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.