Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

American Idiot
La Mirada Theatre
Review by Sharon Perlmutter

Ian Brininstool, Sean Garner, Patrick Reilly and Cast
Photo by Jason Niedle
American Idiot in small-scale? I'll admit I was intrigued. When the national tour hit the Ahmanson, it struck me as an overwhelming audio-visual experience. On a small stage, as part of La Mirada Theatre's ONSTAGE series (in which the audience is seated on stage around a smaller stage), how would American Idiot work?

Surprisingly well, as it turns out.

It isn't tiny by any measure. With a cast of 17 and a floor-to-ceiling video wall, the production certainly doesn't look cheap. Although, when there's a video wall behind the stage and audience on the other three sides, there are many entrances and exits of people and props that take place through the audience. (Full marks to the cast for not, in fact, smacking me in the knees with a couch, mattress, or hospital gurney.) But the tradeoff for all the set changes in plain sight is an immediacy that can really only happen when you're only a few feet away from the cast.

For the uninitiated, the musical, based on the Green Day concept album, follows the story of three disaffected middle-class suburban youths who want to go out and find lives. One, Will, ends up staying home at the last minute, when he learns his girlfriend is pregnant. The second, Tunny, buys into propaganda and joins the military. The third, Johnny, finds himself alone in the city, and ends up in a drug-fueled downward spiral, courtesy of one St. Jimmy.

Patrick Reilly as Tunny is the most effective of the three. I happened to be seated directly facing him in "21 Guns," the song in which we see Tunny come home from war. Reilly's face is a combination of pain and blankness, as though the enormity of how much he has been changed is something he is not yet ready to process. This type of moment—in which the audience sees a character's emotions beautifully realized on an actor's face—is the reason to do a smaller-scale production, and Reilly takes full advantage.

Ian Brininstool brings gravelly-voiced vocals to Will, which emphasize his frustration at his stuck-at-home situation. A.J. Mendoza's suffuses St. Jimmy with a malevolent energy—you can't take your eyes off him, even though you know you probably should.

The only one of the four male performances with which I had some reservations is Sean Garner as Johnny. He is brilliantly successful with "When It's Time," Johnny's tender love song; but his voice sometimes comes off as too colorful for the rage-driven punk vocals Johnny has at the start of the show. Garner connects with Johnny's ennui, but I didn't always get the anger percolating beneath.

Jonathan Infante's video projections are first rate. The wall of media oversaturation for the opening number gives way to appropriate backgrounds, many of which are set in motion—a slow pan over a nighttime cityscape (with city traffic moving at enhanced speeds) is perfect for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." That song also features a delicious bit of stagecraft which manages to place an actress in a window above Johnny despite the fact that the stage has no second level. (A similar technique is used to introduce St. Jimmy, and it nicely hints at something we learn later in the show.)

Costumes (Thomas G. Marquez) and choreography (Dana Solimando) are heavy on scantily clad ensemble members (particularly, but not exclusively, female) gyrating sexually. While there is also a reasonable amount of energetic punk head-banging in there, I found myself longing for female ensemble members doing something other than moving around suggestively.

The most extraordinary thing about this scaled-down American Idiot is the overall impression it conveys of the plot. On a huge stage, in front of a huge audience, American Idiot is a generation's plea for understanding. On a smaller stage, very nearly interwoven with the audience, American Idiot is three characters' journeys to understanding themselves.

American Idiot runs ONSTAGE at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through May 15, 2016. For tickets and information, see

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts presents Green Days American Idiot. Music by Green Day; Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Scenic Design Rich Rose; Costume Design Thomas G. Marquez; Lighting Design Steven Young; Sound Design Josh Bessom; Video Projection Design Jonathan Infante; Properties Design Kevin Williams; Hair & Makeup Design Katie McCoy; Casting Director Julia Flores; Music Arrangements and Orchestrations Tom Kitt; Technical Director David Cruise; Publicist David Elzer/DEMAND PR; Assistant Stage Manager Heidi Westrom; Production Stage Manager Donna R. Parsons; Associate Choreographer Gretchen Dawson. Music Director David O; Choreographed by Dana Solimando. Directed by Brian Kite.

Johnny: Sean Garner
Will: Ian Brininstool
Tunny: Patrick Reilly
Heather: Ellie Wyman
Whatsername: Jordan Kai Burnett
St.Jimmy: A.J. Mendoza
Extraordinary Girl: Ashley Loren
Ensemble: Juan Caballer, Alexander Garland, Bella Hicks, Jackson Hinden, Dylan Hoffinger, Billy Kametz, Adrianna Rose Lyons, Chris Marcos, Nina Schreckengost, Charlotte Mary Wen

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