Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Washington's Keegan Theatre and directors Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea have created a high-intensity production of American Idiot, propelled by a powerful young cast and in-your-face staging and design.
American Idiot began as a 2004 concept album by the band Green Day examining youthful anger and frustration following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the onset of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, original director and co-bookwriter Michael Mayer worked with Green Day frontman and lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong to adapt the recording for the stage with some additional material from the band. (Although Green Day is described as working in the punk idiom, much of the score is melodic rather than off-putting.)
The musical follows three friends making their way through a world of television, loud noise, music, drugs, and other distractions. Johnny (Harrison Smith) runs away to the city, meets a woman known only as Whatsername (Eben K. Logan), and falls under the spell of the cynical drug dealer St. Jimmy (Christian Montgomery). Tunny (Hasani Allen) becomes fascinated with the supposed glamour of military life and enlists in the U.S. Army. Will (Josh Sticklin) stays behind in the suburbs with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Molly Janiga). Aside from Montgomery's feral performance, the cast is more notable in its work as an ensemble than in individual moments.
The directors maintain a manic pace throughout the 90-minute show, with actors climbing up and down the walls of Matthew Keenan's graffiti-and-poster-covered set and riding on the rolling crates that stand in for realistic scenery. Rachel Leigh Dolan's choreography uses flailing, contorted bodies and shaking of heads to convey the disaffection of youth (kudos to Craig Miller for his hair and makeup designs, from Johnny's gravity-defying cloud of hair and black eyeliner to St. Jimmy's multicolor dye job), but also provides gentler moments like Tunny's dream duet with his Extraordinary Girl (Chani Wereley).
Patrick Lord's projections (shown against the walls of the set) immerse the audience in news and commentary of the period, notably footage of the collapse of the World Trade Center and excerpts from George W. Bush's speeches about terrorism. Debra Kim Sevigny has created evocative costumes, Alan Sean Weeks' lighting design adds to the tension, and Jake Null leads a highly capable and not overly loud orchestra situated above the stage floor.