American Idiot (4 out of 4 stars)
Book by Michael Mayer and Billie Joe Armstrong. Lyrics by Armstrong. Music by Green Day. Directed by Mayer. Until Jan. 15 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St. 416-644-3665.
You’d have to be an idiot to miss this one.
The touring company of American Idiot, which opened at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Thursday night, courtesy of Dancap Productions, only strengthens the initial impression I had of this show 18 months ago, namely that it’s still the first great musical of the 21st century.
Take the haunting music of Green Day, the incisive lyrics of Billie Joe Armstrong and the superb staging of Michael Mayer, then combine them with the work of a mind-blowing design team and a cast with talent and commitment to burn.
The end result is not just one of the most exciting musicals you’ve ever seen but one of the most thought-provoking as well.
Inspired by the groundbreaking 2004 Green Day album of the same name, American Idiot looks at the youth of today and the world they inherited without asking for it.
Whether you want to call them “alienated,” “slackers,” “disillusioned” or “despairing,” you’ll get new insight from what you see on the stage.
Three young men (Johnny, Will and Tunny) live in the hollowness of suburbia and try to break out and find an answer to their lives. And by the way, my friend, don’t think that the word “American” in the title doesn’t mean these are the people on our own Canadian streets — mean or otherwise — as well.
This pain slashes wide and cuts deep. Johnny turns to hedonism, Will struggles with domesticity, Tunny goes to war and each, in his own way, tastes despair.
Some have their descent into hell hastened by heroin or booze, others by misguided patriotism, but they all eventually reach a personal ground zero.
Yes, Ground Zero. 9/11. The twin towers. Even though the work doesn’t mention those touchstones literally, you’ll never be able to listen to “Wake Me Up When September Ends” again without seeing the projections of flying paper reaching upwards, or the actors lying on the ground stretching their arms upward for salvation that never comes.
The whole production throws cliché out the window in search of a bigger truth and it finds it. Steven Hoggett’s choreography is not from the world of musical comedy, but the landscape of war, sex, urban violence and inner pain.
The Green Day score, brilliantly arranged by Tom Kitt and played with full passion by a dynamite six-piece, drives the show forward all night, but it’s the cast who hop on those metal wings and take flight.
Van Hughes holds the centre as Johnny, a Peter Pan with track marks, searching for a Neverland that he almost falls into forever. Witty, vulnerable, bitter and brilliant.
Jake Epstein’s Will nearly drowns in his pain, but keeps raising his unexpectedly sweet voice to show you he’s dreaming of a way out. Awesome stuff.
And Scott J. Campbell’s Tunny hurls thrilling defiance at the world until it breaks him and he discovers a new and gentle spirit that will break your heart.
Every last member of the cast makes you want to stand and cheer for them, and when the curtain fell, that’s just what the entire audience did.
You’re going to want to do the same.
Full review at Toronto.com:HERE