Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

American Idiot
Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of Funny Money and Stephanie's review of Nunsense 2: The Second Coming

Image courtesy of Musical Theatre Southwest
The songs from Green Day's American Idiot album dominated the radio airwaves from late 2004 through all of 2005. This was the first punk-style album to blast across pop lines—bigger than Nirvana, bigger than the early '90s success of Green Day itself. I'd put on the CD in my kid-friendly minivan because I liked it, and I'd notice my kids in the back seat were singing along, knowing every word, letting the f-bombs fly. That pretty punk album tossed off five hit singles. Punk is defined by attitude, and the songs on American Idiot were true to that attitude, but they also carried more. The Green Day trio delivered anthem-big melodies, and the lyrics by singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong stretched far beyond punk's usual anger into genuine sadness, even tenderness.

The album also struck a powerful political calling. Green Day's fans are a generation facing the breakdown of the American Dream. Green Day's music has always reflected a world of single moms and their teenage kids getting stoned on the couch while mom's at work. By 2004 when American Idiot arrived, many in this stoned generation were going off to war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. They were confused, their lives were failing to launch, and they were pissed. Green Day poured all of this angst—with a strong dash of beauty—into American Idiot, and it connected.

In 2009, Billie Joe Armstrong sat down with Michael Mayer—a Tony-winning opera, musical, and drama director—and wrote the book for the stage version of American Idiot, bringing in all of the album's songs while adding a few earlier Green Day numbers. The musical launched in Green Day's hometown of Berkeley, California, before moving successfully to Broadway in 2010. During its year-long run, Armstrong occasionally performed in the role of St. Jimmy.

The story is a mash-up of the destinies of three friends, Tunny, Will, and Johnny, as their lives go in different directions. Tunny goes off to war and returns with one leg missing. Will tries on-and-off to work things out with his pregnant girlfriend Heather. Johnny turns to drug addiction. Through it all, we get the rush of millennial emotions, dashed hopes, and awkward restarts. It's an exuberant mess of dance and singing that pretty well gets it right on young life in the early new century.

Cheers to Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) for taking on this ambitious musical. There are so many ways this could have gone wrong—a sappy approach to the music, inauthentic costuming, anger that merely looks silly—but MTS took its chances, and under the excellent guidance of veteran director Laura Nuzum, this monster of a musical works great.

The choreography by Luke Loffelmacher is terrific, as is the costuming by Shannon Scheffler. Music direction by Aaron Howe is wonderful; he conducts a band that gets it all right, from the punk guitar riffs to the tasteful strings. Also, there are nice touches with video and lighting by Daniel Chapman and Chris Duncan, respectively.

Nuzum has put together a great cast. While the musical succeeds as an ensemble, there are some stand-outs. In the lead roles, Rico Leyva as Johnny, Paul Dore as Tunny, and Austin Embree as Will are all strong. Jennifer O'Neil—always perfect—delivers well as Heather. One over-the-top standout is Nando Zamora who plays St. Jimmy as a blend of Sal Mineo, James Dean, and Ziggy Stardust.

Green Day's American Idiot, directed by Laura Nuzum for Musical Theatre Southwest, in the MTS Black Box at 6320 Domingo Rd NE, Albuquerque NM through July 30, 2017. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. For seniors, students and ATG members, admission is $20. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at

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