Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

American Idiot
New Line Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Frederick Rice, Brendan Ochs, and Evan Fornachon
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
Great moments in history, even recent history, often come down to us like a simple, deadly swordfight. Heroes and villains of the past, and all their philosophies, clang together in light and shadow: never entirely real, but undeniably dazzling-freed from the burdens of the infinite now.

So it is with Green Day's glorious 2009 "coming of age" punk-rock musical set in the aftermath of 9/11. Based on the Green Day CD (also titled "American Idiot"), the gleaming melodies and exciting rhythms that made it Album of the Year in 2005 are all there: striking one after another, sometimes overlapping thrillingly. And the young actors on stage make up for the script's slender characterizations with fantastic harmonies that tell a lot about the strength of their own brand of tribalism, in lieu of libretto.

It's the perfect musical for New Line, and for directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy: gritty and real, and entirely propelled by great music and magnificent singing under the baton of Sue Goldford. So many moments of outstanding vocal artistry come roaring out at us in the dark, sculpting (through punk rock!) and defining barely formed youth, that the characters become real in a way that reaffirms the highly poised "realities" of opera itself.

But isn't that the great riddle of the "rock opera" (or, in this case, the "punk rock opera")? Rock, like all "popular" art forms, tends toward the ever more personal; and opera, like all classical forms, hews strictly to structure and technique and a very particular canon (a.k.a., to the "impersonal"). And yet, somehow, both the popular and the classical merge seamlessly, getting their full due in this very intricately sung yet captivatingly natural and highly compelling production.

The sometimes frantic (but always perfectly choreographed) action in American Idiot finds three young men standing in the shadow of the international terror, and watching the rise of fascism at home, and pits them against all the obstacles that face all young men on their own for the first time in their lives. Evan Fornachon is excellent in the very demanding role of Johnny, consumed by the pleasures of New York; and Frederick Rice and Brendan Ochs are excellent as his friends: one swept off to Iraq for the well-documented anguish there; while the other seems almost mystically diminished in swagger and stature after his girlfriend's pregnancy.

Sarah Porter is Johnny's utterly marginalized girlfriend ("Whatsername"): still formidable, and outraged by his refusal to grow up, or even to grow at all. And Larissa White has a fine solo, in her panic over an "at-home" pregnancy test kit. Later, Chris Kernan (to our amazement) finds pathos in the role of an extremely cynical drug dealer, St. Jimmy.

American Idiot, Through March 26, 2016, at the Marcel Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. For more information visit Music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, with book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer. Musical Arrangements and orchestrations by Tom Kitt.

The Players
Johnny: Evan Fornachon
Will: Brendan Ochs
Tunny: Frederick Rice
St. Jimmy: Chris Kernan
Whatsername: Sarah Porter
Heather: Larissa White
Extraordinary Girl: Sicily Mathenia
Favorite Son: Kevin Corpuz
Rock & Roll Boyfriend: Clayton Humburg
Ensemble: Kevin Corpuz, Cameisha Cotton, Clayton Humburg, Jeremy Hyatt, Omega Jones, Sean Michael, Ariel Saul, Tanya Sapp, Gabe Taylor

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Sue Goldford
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Guitar: Aaron Doerr
Bass: Andrew Gurney
Violin: Twinda Murry
Cello: Jessica Nations
Percussion: Clancy Newell

The Artistic Staff
Directors: Scott Miller, Mike Dowdy
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Michael Juncal
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master: Kimi Short
Dance Captain: Cameisha Cotton
Scenic Artists: Patrick Donnigan, Gary Karasek, Melanie Kozak, Kate Wilkerson
Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios

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