Theater Review: AMERICAN IDIOT (Chance Theater, Anaheim)

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by Tony Frankel on August 1, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

IDIOT IS AS IDIOT DOES

Inspired by a 2004 rock album by the American pop-punk rock band Green Day, American Idiot has received its share of positive reviews since its premiere in Berkeley, California in 2009 and subsequent runs on Broadway, on tour, at colleges, and regional and community theaters. When I saw the tour at The Ahmanson Theatre in L.A., the rock musical was fun but also got a shoulder-shrug from me, especially because it was tough to follow the plot (a wobbly superstructure on which to hang about 20 songs), and because the music was so loud it drowned out lyrics. None of this matters when you see Chance Theater‘s hard-hitting revival, as the show remains a raw and exciting rock concert. Even though many lyrics are shamefully lost by a band that is way, way too loud for this house, there is still pleasure to be gained from Nick Santiago‘s amazing multi-media design and the gyrating, head-bopping, hair-twirling near-continuous movement of an astounding ensemble.

Jack Aitken and Jared Machado

Just let the music and performances wash over you as a sensory high. At 90 minutes, the sustained visceral heat of director James Michael McHale‘s production is impressive. The slim plot (Michael Mayer, who co-wrote the book with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) makes more sense here even as the show is almost entirely sung with just a few brief patches of spoken dialogue. Keeping the action on boil, Miguel Cardenas’s high energy choreographer is well-done by raucous, committed performers.

Sophia Barajas, Angie Chavez, Eric Dobson, Wyatt Hatfield, and Kristin O'Connell

American Idiot explores a year in the lives of three young men. Johnny, Will, and Tunny are bored, disaffected, frustrated, resentful, and ready to break out of their stultifying lives in a suburban community, but it’s difficult to sympathize with them as they whine about their dreary existence while playing video games and getting high; they come across as small town layabouts who haven’t earned the right to blame suburbia, or anywhere else, for their angst. (Blame the media’s constant barrage of lousy news, this production seems to say.) They don’t want to be American Idiots, but…

Dagmar Marshall-Michelson and Jared Machado

The three friends depart for the big city with money Johnny borrows from his mother, but Will elects to stay behind with his pregnant girlfriend. After arriving in the city, Tunny joins the army, leaving Johnny to go it alone where he drifts into a life of sex and drugs. Johnny eventually recognizes that this lifestyle has no long-range future, so he returns home, where he is reunited with Will and Tunny. At the end, Johnny sounds a note of acceptance and hope that his life will get better. Kind of a cop-out, touchy-feely ending after all his counterculture rebellion. That’s what happens when you have rebels without a cause.

Eric Dobson, Jared Machado, and Christopher Diem

The majority of the songs are of the high decibel variety (I guess McHale, sound designer Hunter Moody and awesome music director Gabrielle Maldonado were all fine with an ear-blasting sound as ear plugs were handed out in the lobby; but, really, why not then add supertitles?). Several songs are quite tuneful, especially those sung to acoustic guitar accompaniment in a pleasing Paul Simon manner.

Eric Dobson

There are seven distinct characters: three young women who interact with the boys and St. Jimmy (an explosive Dagmar Marshall-Michelson), a big city drug dealer who leads Johnny astray. A young chorus twirls, twists and rotates inexhaustibly throughout the evening in Bradley Allen Lock’s (mostly) grungy costumes. Between the video effects and the live performers, this is, visually, a very busy show.

Jared Machado stars as Johnny, and he throws himself into the role passionately. His all-out work sets the tone for the entire cast. Christopher Diem plays Will, Eric Dobson is Tunny, and Erika Mireya Cruz, Angie Chavez, and Kristin O’Connell play the three females who connect with the lads. They all meet the intensity demands of the show, along with the chorus Jack Aitken, Sophia Barajas, and Wyatt Hatfield. There are no slackers in this ensemble.

Kristin O'Connell, Erika Mireya Cruz, Sophia Barajas, Angie Chavez, and Jared Machado

American Idiot attempts to portray the restless and rebellious youth of today, but that’s a cliché that played better in the turbulent 1960s than 2022 (it would be an embarrassment to compare American Idiot with Hair). The commercial acceptance of this Green Day musical suggests that the show struck has a chord with mainstream audiences. It comes down to that old maxim, “If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.”

photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

American Idiot
Chance Theater
Cripe Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma in Anaheim
Thu at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 3
ends on August 14, 2022
for tickets, call 888.455.4212 or visit Chance

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