On a Tuesday evening after enjoying some downtown San Jose happy hour fare, I found myself at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. The crowd is a smattering of distinguished musical theater aficionados and 30 somethings who dusted off their skinny jeans and concert t-shirts. The curtain rises to reveal a well designed industrial set hammering you with digital imagery from post 9/11 America on TV screens stacked to the rafters. The music comes fast and loud as the audience is quickly swept into the story.
While I am familiar with some of Green Day’s biggest hits (how could you ever escape them?), I would not call myself a fan. After seeing Broadway San Jose’s American Idiot, I can say that you do not need to be a Green day fan to appreciate what Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer have done to turn what could have been just another greatest hits album into a bona fide musical production accessible to audiences that may have never enjoyed Green Day at the height of their popularity.
American Idiot follows the lives of 3 affected suburban youth looking to escape small town life: Johnny (in an outstanding performance by Alex Nee), who runs off to the big city only to fall into a life of addiction, Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) who is swept up in the wave of post 9/11 patriotism and joins the military and Will (Casey O’Farrell) who stays behind after finding out his girlfriend is pregnant only to watch life pass him by.
There is nothing particularly original or inspiring about the story line. But honestly, the story is incidental. What the audience really wants is a parade of Green Day’s greatest hits. American Idiot delivers 90 minutes of wall to wall musical numbers solidly performed by an enthusiastic cast and supported by a great onstage band. I found myself immersed to the point that I was singing along with the most popular tunes while wondering if Johnny will kick his drug habit, end up back with his girl and finally sing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”.
American Idiot is playing now through June 9th at Broadway San Jose. Tickets are available at: www.broadwaysanjose.com