“Here comes the rain again, falling from the stars; drenched in my pain again, becoming who we are…” –Green Day’s “American Idiot”
Part rock-concert, part-reality show, largely sung through and performed sans intermission, in 2009 Green Day’s powerhouse album was vibrantly brought to life in “American Idiot”! Now this two-time “Tony Award” winning musical is the latest eye-popping offering at “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” in La Mirada California. In many way’s La Mirada’s more ‘immersive’ ‘re-conceptualization’ which puts the audience on-stage and into the very heart of all the happenings, is an updating and improvement on the original—allowing for more fluidity thanks to superior (and more insightful use of) large screen projections. Featuring lyrics by “Green Day” Front-man Billie Joe Armstrong and a book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer, at its core this electrifying rock extravaganza of adolescent disillusionment tells the story of three friends—“Johnny”, “Tunny” and “Will”, who (each in their own ways) strike out from their small “town that don’t exist” to discover the world whereupon all they really discover is more disillusionment; but through this comes some semblance of acceptance and even wisdom. (Yes, it’s a journey of growing up and self-discovery, but one with costs.)
With snappy lyrics accompanied by frenetic, unsuppressed cutting-loose and couched in pithy (albeit somewhat nihilistic) observations (“We are the kids of war and peace, from Anaheim to the Middle East” those in the cast insist early on, further informing us “I don’t care, if you don’t care!”) this show practically defines the term “high-octane” with a dynamite score that includes every song from Green Day’s album “American Idiot”, as well as several songs from their follow-up release, ‘21st Century Breakdown”. Johnny narrates the passage of time serving as a kind of vocal ‘diary’, presaging each ‘entry’ by its ensuing date. For instance: “February Second” he announces, “Jerked off into oblivion and forgot to shower-blah, fuckin’ blah!” A self-proclaimed “Son of rage and love” who considers himself “The Jesus Of Suburbia” (“No one ever died for my sins” he sings/rants before growling sarcastically, “Can I get an Amen?!”) and extolling the futility of life “across the Alienation”, he and his two pals make plans to go out in search of “how I’m supposed to be in a land of make-believe—that don’t believe in me!”; however, right before he’s set to leave Will’s girlfriend Heather announces she’s expecting his child so he stays behind. Life, after all, happens even when you’re young, inexperienced or totally not ready for it, and before you know it, Will is a teenage father with a discontented girlfriend and a child he can neither afford to support–or even really relate to. Instead, he chooses the path of least resistance, sitting at home unendingly watching TV with either a cigarette or can of beer as his main companion now that his best buds have gone (“Nobody likes you! Everyone left you—where’d you all go?!” the voices in his head chant.) It’s not long before Heather too, finally takes the baby and leaves. Once in the big city, we learn Johnny’s in love with a girl he alludes to only as “Whatsername” having glimpsed her from an upstairs window while out on one of his many nocturnal excursions he takes to explore his new environs (“She’s a rebel, she’s a Saint, she’s the salt of the Earth and she’s dangerous—she’s the last of the American girls” he exults.) Eventually Tunny starts feeling restless by all the nothing he and Johnny have been doing so, inspired by a TV commercial selling the hardy and wholesome “true-blue” image of the modern American Soldier, he enlists in the military to pursue his future as a soon-to-be disabled Veteran. Meanwhile Johnny has even more serious problems—on top of his relationship with “Whatsername” he also starts one with a sinister figure he calls “St. Jimmy” who lures him into drug addiction, spoiling whatever chances he may have had with the girl he professes to love. “It’s not over ‘til you’re underground; it’s not over’ ‘til it’s too late” she and other ladies of the street remind him before the pair go their inevitable, separate ways. Conquering his habit, he then tries working a steady, if completely soul-killing, nine-to-five job, before subsequently choosing to sell his most prized possession—his guitar–and return home where he’s reunited with Will and the now-discharged Tunny–who may have lost his leg, but has at least found love with an Army Nurse he calls “The Extraordinary Girl”. Together again, the trio experience, maybe not exactly ‘fulfillment’ for all their journeys have put them through, but at least some understanding—even Will in the end is reconciled with his child. Leaving Johnny alone, our young anti-hero wonders where ‘Whatsername” has gone—a thought he’ll very likely be pondering for the rest of his life.
A refreshing coherency is what Director Brian Kite brings to the entire proceedings that may have been lacking in previous productions of this, “Green Day’s admitted “Magnum Opus”. Moments lost in larger venues are on full display here. Kite also streamlines the focus of what can be a fairly complex plot—minimizing a lot of the excess distractions, and keeping the perpetually moving background in the service of the adventure we’re being brought on instead of acting against it, thus keeping the action centered primarily on his three protagonists and those they deal with (or are influenced by) directly. The result is a more lucid (and at turns, even more moving) story that benefits greatly from this more intimate environment. Kite also cleverly dispenses with the show’s traditional “Post Curtain Call” inclusion of the more up-beat “Time Of Your Life” which leaves this conclusion far more profound as Johnny at last realizes he’s not the “Jesus” of anything, but rather more a ‘moron’ than ‘messiah’—the real “American Idiot” of the title. Along with Associate Choreographer Gretchen Dawson, Dana Solimando’s exhilarating dance segments likewise strum all the right chords. Infused throughout the on-stage occurrences (often simply bursting forth suddenly when you least expect them) these are tribal rituals executed by way of tantric ‘mosh-pit” worthy ‘seizures’. The net effect is always incredible! The Scenic and Video Projection Designs, by Rich Rose and Jonathan Infante respectively, are a marvel of symbiotic electronic composition and placement, featuring the entire back wall of the theater awash with ‘e-graffiti’ and ‘digitalized ‘optical noise’ that young people (and everyone really) are so ceaselessly bombarded by these days. They include tiles entreating us to “Make Art Not War”, a tepidly ironic Obama ‘Hope” campaign poster, and several more sardonically astute touches of symbolism referencing “The Misfits” – a band that reputedly influenced “Green Day”–as well as one poster even urging us to “Keep Calm and Love Hamilton” (in a wink to Broadway’s latest record-setting new show’!)
Collectively, the youthful and infinitely energetic ensemble continually amaze all through the show starting with its raucous opening number (“Welcome to a new kind of tension–all across the alienation–where everything isn’t meant to be okay,” they warn us of things to come; “Television dreams of tomorrow–we’re not the ones who’re meant to follow!”) Shortly after, “Rest Of Our Lives” is another winning effort, while the peremptory (and mega-pumped) “Favorite Son” is also a major standout in a show bursting with them. At the show’s mid-point, the hit “21 Guns”, in which the three friends, now parted, ‘come together’ symbolically, is sensitively—but powerfully–staged and enacted so much so that it may even bring tears to your eyes. “She’s A Rebel” also provides a terrific ‘Hip Hop” interlude, while “The Extraordinary Girl”—an anesthesia induced dream Tunny has on the eve of having his wounded leg amputated (or as he sings, “Before The Lobotomy”,) is arguably one of the most jaw-dropping sequences, wherein he and the exotic girl who will ultimately see him through float on a hospital gurney at the center of plenty of lush and surreal dance movements, surrounded (literally) by a wall of stars.
As “Johnny”, Sean Garner is completely compelling–like a latter-day folk rock Troubadour or a Balladeer for the coming Apocalypse. Particularly with his handling of “I Walk Alone”, Garner establishes his ability with both a guitar and a simpler (yet still potent) lyric, while also excelling when essentially leading the wistful “Wake Me Up When September Ends”–backed by the rest of the cast who stand at the rear center of the auditorium up on the elevated enclosure where the band is situated. Patrick Reilly also proves to be a vital presence as the hapless Wounded-Warrior-to-be, “Tunny”. Although his story-line unfolds via only a few numbers, they are all proportionately impressive and even give rise to some absolutely astonishing special effects. These include the vaguely disquieting “We Are The Waiting’ as he is mechanically ‘processed’ through the enlistment center, and then the poignant “Before The Lobotomy” which has him laid-out beside other fresh-faced, unfortunate, G.I’s, awaiting his critical surgery. Ian Brininstool too, deftly makes the most of a fairly tricky role as “Will”–the friend originally intending to join his comrades out on the road, before being waylaid by the sudden news of his impending fatherhood. As the focus of “Too Much Too Soon” Brininstool does a laudable job in what is basically a ‘reactive position; nonetheless, he manages to maintain our focus and may even attain a little sympathy along the way (“She packs her bags and says goodbye and ‘Bon Voyage’ Farewell–we’ll see you in Hell! I hope you rest in pieces!!!” her friends taunt as they help her out the door and out of his life.) Later, given his rich, resonant and expressive voice, his part in “Give Me Novocaine” similarly validates just how fine a singer he is to boot!(“Drain the pressure from the swelling–this sensation’s overwhelming; give me a long kiss goodnight and everything will be alright, tell me that I won’t feel a thing…” Will pleads in assessing the downturn his life has taken)
Also endowed with an awesome voice and intense and edgy stage magnetism (which he very generously shows-off here,) A.J. Mendoza is “St. Jimmy”–“The Suicide Commando that your mama talked about”! The skull splashed across Jimmy’s tight, ‘wife-beater’ shirt shrewdly indicates who he is and what his appearance portends (HINT: “Danny Zuko” or “The Pinball Wizard” he ain’t!) More an esoteric symbol of a fast encroaching darkness, Mendoza’s “Jimmy” is fittingly sexy and Sirenically captivating while still keeping a hard Dionysian edge. He turns up the heat considerably with the near-chaotic “Know Your Enemy”, then later with “The Death Of St. Jimmy”, but he also slows it down to a sultry, seductive pace to make “Last Night On Earth” that much more libidinous (though always foreboding) as Johnny and Whatsername shoot up for the very first time. Jordan Kai Burnett also offers outstanding support as “Whatsername”. She too could be more a fantasy or feverish teenage ‘wet dream’ of a girl (one we all love—hopelessly–but inexorably always must lose.) Either way, Burnett especially shines when kicking off “21 Guns”, as well as with her contribution to “The Last Night On Earth”, before igniting the defiant “Letter-bomb”. Moreover, as “The Favorite Son”—everyone’s ideal of what the “All American Boy” is and represents, Alexander Garland is devastatingly handsome, and demonstrates some pretty agile moves in his spot-light number dubbed (–what else?) “Favorite Son”. Flashing a brilliant ‘Pepsodent” smile, this ‘mythology’ of what every red-blooded patriotic lad should be (not to mention the effect he has on all the patriotic red-blooded ‘All American” lasses) stirs Tunny to enlist in the military (“When his dream turned red, white and blue” we’re told.), Once his fate catches up to him though, the ensuing episodes are eased by the presence of Ashley Loren as “The Extraordinary Girl”. The converse opposite of “Whatsername”, Loren engagingly presents her as enticing enough but also heroic—a dream that’s even better in waking reality.
Agree or disagree with its overall philosophy, your senses will be dazzled either way! Indeed, although “American Idiot” contains some adult content and is definitely theater for more mature audiences, by the time the house lights come up, you’ll have enjoyed a truly remarkable and thrilling experience. Having ‘previewed’ on Friday, April 29th, the show officially opened on Saturday, April 30th, where it will run through Sunday, May 15th, 2016 at “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada, California. Show-times are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 PM, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, Sunday evenings at 7:00 PM with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM; In addition, there will be a special “late-night” performance on Friday, May 13th at 11;00 PM (with no evening performance on Sunday May 15th.) Tickets can be purchased on-line by logging onto “The La Mirada Theatre’s” website at:, www.lamiradatheatre.com , or by calling “The La Mirada Theatre Box Office” at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. (Student and Senior discounts are available.)
Production Stills By Jason Niedle, Courtesy Of David Elzer At Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts”; Special Thanks To David Elzer, Brian Kite, Dana Solimando And To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” “Onstage” Production Of “American Idiot” For Making This Story Possible