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Review: 'American Idiot' at Clowes Hall

April 3, 2013

With "American Idiot" in town for only a week, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the show here before a full column in the upcoming IBJ.

For the record, I approached the show's national tour fairly ignorant about Green Day’s music. I did hear some songs I recognized (“Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) but, honestly, if you had asked me beforehand to name two of the band’s songs, I couldn’t have done it. 

My ignorance, though, only shows that, for those who don’t mind non-traditional core characters, lyrics laden with f-bombs, high-volume musical intensity, and a big pile of youth angst, “American Idiot” isn’t just for its characters’ demographic group.

Plot? There isn’t much. Johnny and his disillusioned buddies want out of suburbia. One’s escape plan ends with the pregnancy of his girlfriend. Another tries to find meaning in military service. Johnny hits the big city, finding both love and drugs, with the latter pushing the former away. 

While it has “define a generation” links to “Hair,” the Broadway show that “American Idiot” most recalls is “Movin’ Out.” That, too, focused on a group of friends who take different paths into the world. More to the point, each show creates its own distinct movement vocabulary. Of course, the “Idiot” moves look nothing like “Movin’ Out.” Its choreographic palette consists largely of a kind of controlled thrashing. Company members rush from the wings to hurl themselves into songs. They leap into beds, flip through windows, and spin each other on scaffolding with precision but without seeming over-rehearsed. When they are almost-but-not-too in-sync, the dancers startlingly highlight the show's themes of connectiveness/disconnectiveness. 

I loved the aggression of the show. It has a “this is what we are” confidence that leads to perhaps a few too many middle-finger raises and crotch grabs, but also seems to know that its characters are speaking their own youthful truth—which may or may not be your more experienced truth.

As with a good production of “Hair,” you don’t have to buy into the characters’ world view in order to have a satisfying experience.

Read more in the April 8 IBJ or, after April 6, at www.ibj.com/arts. 

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