“American Idiot” at Merriam Theater: BAM


That’s the feeling I got after watching the opening number of Broadway’s smash-hit musical “American Idiot,” performed this week (through Sunday February 17th) at the Merriam Theater.

BAM. Like, what just happened. Like, that was awesome.

If there ever was a sensationalist musical, this is it. I don’t mean sensational as in it was the best thing I’ve ever seen, but as in it played on my senses. Visual — check.  Sensual — check. Audio — double check. This musical is loud. Don’t take your kids.

The curtain rises to reveal a very busy set. There are about 40 flat-screen televisions covering the huge back wall, and 10 people clinging to various bits of furniture, some of which is attached to the wall at varying heights. The first number is Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Various cast members leap off of the wall to join into the song once it had begun. Someone attached to a harness dropped down from the ceiling to join in. A group of girls dashed onstage in punk-rock clothing. The televisions flashed images of consumerism and upside-down American flags.

The rest of the songs in the musical were equally intense, electrifying, and sensational — which both fed the excitement of the show and worked against its effect. The lead actor (Northwestern senior Alex Nee playing Johnny) had an astonishing amount of energy and was a thrill to watch from beginning to end. However, although I loved the color of the first piece, the rest of the show was that same color, and by the middle of the show I wanted something different. Not more — I don’t know if that’s possible. But different.

Still, this show is a must-see for any Green Day fan. The musical was written by Billy Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, and all of the music is Green Day’s. The story follows a year in the lives of three close friends, Johnny, Will and Tunny. They’re around 20, and want to make something of their lives. Johnny and Tunny go to New York City to pursue their dreams and make something of themselves. Will stays behind with his pregnant girlfriend.

Tunny soon joins the armed forces. Johnny soon becomes a drug addict. Will is a terrible boyfriend, and is unable to leave his couch, where he drinks and smokes pot while his girlfriend takes care of their kid. The story truly follows Johnny, though, as he finds a woman he loves, but loses her because drugs have messed up his mind. Wrapped up in this picture is Johnny’s personified nefarious alter ego, who gives him drugs and tries to prevent him from falling in love.

There is little dialogue in the musical; the story is told entirely through movement, lighting, and song. The result is a whole lot of energy, but not enough story. I would have liked to have seen more details of the characters’ lives — they largely express only emotion and frustration in their songs. They do manage to show plenty of sex and drugs; Johnny and his girlfriend have a dance with a tourniquet, and there is a great deal of simulated sex, though no nudity.

This play is worth seeing. The songs were a throwback to the past, the set was unbelievable, and the music and flashing lights were bigger than any I’ve seen onstage. What’s more, the friendship of Johnny, Tunny and Will is something to root for.

Ticket prices start as low as $15. The show runs through this coming Sunday, Feb. 17. Performances are tonight at 7:30, Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m..

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