Green Day storms Broadway
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When Green Day signed with a big label and the punk world cried "Sell outs!," Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool struggled with the mainstream spotlight. It was the Bush administration and the Iraq War that goosed the band to success, inspiring the power-pop opera "American Idiot," with its fist thrust at politics, the media, religion and all the issues bothering lyricist Armstrong.
The album put Green Day back on course to million-sellers and arena concerts, and now, Broadway, where it received a well-deserved Tony nomination as a welcome.
"American Idiot" is a primal scream of alienation with cirque-de-music-video staging and energy to spare. John Gallagher Jr. heads a high-voltage cast that brings chaos to order, an illusion created by director Michael Mayer, who also wrote the book with Green Day's Armstrong, choreographer Steve Hoggett and scenic designer Christine Jones.
The thin thread that binds Green Day's songs comes from several months in the lives of three friends -- Johnny (Gallagher), the addict who is destined to amount to nothing; Will (Michael Esper), the slacker who never leaves the couch; and Tunny (Stark Sands), who deserts the "I don't care" life to become a soldier.
Competing for Johnny's soul are the drug dealer St. Jimmy and Whatsername, characters taken from song titles.
It's a crime that there is no Tony nod for Mr. Gallagher, who already owns one for "Spring Awakening." He sings his heart out and hurtles his body into danger -- for instance, a towering scaffold is lowered to represent a bus, with him all the while atop it.
The "Idiot" assault on the senses includes people and a shopping cart in several high-wire acts and screens that flash news clips and MTV-style video. Rarely has Broadway seen such a crowded stage of hard bodies and everyday "Whatsernames" engaged in muscular rock numbers. You never quite know where to look, and you're thankful for the serenity of ballads like the haunting "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
The show ends abruptly, as if Mr. Mayer and Mr. Armstrong didn't know where to go from the trip to nowhere. But stand for the ovation, as our audience did, because the entire cast returns, each armed with an acoustic guitar. They still have one last song left in them: "(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life."
St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.; 1-800-545-2559 or Telecharge.com.
First Published May 9, 2010 12:00 am