Billie Joe Armstrong appears in 'Idiot'
By GLENN GAMBOA firstname.lastname@example.org
Before launching into the traditional "American Idiot" encore Friday night, Green Day
singer Billie Joe Armstrong smiled and joked, "This is the part where
we're going to start the whole show over from the beginning."
The amazing part is that the "American Idiot" cast, which is mostly
intact from the Tony- winning musical's opening last year, looked like
they could easily do it again.
The show is still taxing - both emotionally, as it reveals the
struggles of growing up in post-9/11 suburbia, and physically through
the striking, distinctive choreography. But the return of Armstrong,
who wrote the rock opera's music and lyrics with his band, and wrote
the book with director Michael Mayer,
seemed to give the production a renewed sense of urgency. (The first
part of Armstrong's run ended last night; he will perform Jan. 18-30
and Feb. 10-27.)
His portrayal of St. Jimmy - the mysterious figure who lures the emotionally conflicted Johnny, played masterfully by John Gallagher Jr., into a self-destructive world of drugs - changes the show on many levels.
ST. JIMMY IS LESS CREEPY. The affable Armstrong makes St. Jimmy look
like a fun guy. He makes Johnny's decline seem far more reasonable than
when Tony Vincent, who originated the St. Jimmy role, played it,
though Vincent's dark, scheming portrayal fit in better with the show's
broader themes of manipulation.
HE BRINGS THE STAR POWER. In a show where so much of the fine
ensemble cast is trying to play decidedly ordinary people, Armstrong
gets to turn up his magnetism even beyond the regular rock-star level
he uses when headlining stadiums because the character calls for it.
It's also quite a treat to hear his powerful voice in the theater's
smaller confines, making "Last Night on Earth" that much more poignant and "Know Your Enemy" even more potent.
HE RAISES THE STAKES. Armstrong's return will, no doubt, introduce
some Green Day fans to Broadway and hopefully introduce Broadway fans
to the art of punk rock. The cast is clearly ready to make a great
impression, as the whole production has been fine-tuned for maximum
effectiveness - from Gallagher's
twitchy likability to Michael Esper's touching delivery of "Give Me
Novacaine" and the haunting new costuming for the anthem "21 Guns."WHAT
WHERE St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., Manhattan
INFO $49-$137; 212-239-6200; americanidiotonbroadway.com; Armstrong returns to the cast Jan. 18-30 and Feb. 10-27.
BOTTOM LINE The "Idiot" becomes the teacher