From a chart-topping Grammy Award-winning concept album (2004) to a blockbuster stage adaptation (2009) to a Tony Award-winning run on Broadway (2010-11), GREEN DAY’S AMERICAN IDIOT is now making its electrifying regional debut at Wilmington’s City Theater Company. The punk-rock opera, with music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, and book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer, is the kick-ass coming-of-age story of a post-modern generation. CTC’s production, directed with full-out intensity by Michael Gray, captures all the rage, love, frustration, and uncertainty of rebellious youth on the verge of adulthood with a powerhouse live band and a cast of commanding young talents whose acting is as strong as their vocals.
Nihilism, urgency, and bad choices drive the disaffected characters, who palliate the boredom and malaise of their constrained suburban lives with the proverbial sex, drugs, and rock-‘n-roll, endless TV viewing (video design by Planet Ten), and aggressive posturing full of snarls, sneers, stomps, and middle fingers, raucous “fuck you”s, and heavy black eye-liner. Protagonists Johnny (Brendan Sheehan) and Tunny (Jake Glassman) make their escape to the freedom and excitement of the city, while their friend Will (George Murphy) remains at home to deal with the unwanted pregnancy of his girlfriend Heather (Leslie Kelly). All convey the pain and stress expressed in song by Green Day’s “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Too Much Too Soon,” as they make the reckless decisions and mistakes that will impact their future, in strident yet heart-wrenching performances as the three-dimensional archetypes of their age.
Maladjusted to urban life and enticed by a television ad, Tunny soon joins the military and is shipped off to war, while Johnny, “The Jesus of Suburbia,” turns to heroin, spurred by his dark-side alter-ego St. Jimmy (the stellar Adam Wahlberg). The lead actors are well supported by their female love interests (Amanda Panrock as Whatshername and Grace Tarves as Extraordinary Girl) in a sensational ensemble (Will Brock, Ben Deane, Jeff Hunsicker, and Frank Schierloh as The Guys; Dylan Geringer, Alex Orgera, and Emma Orr as The Girls). They are (despite a few minor malfunctions of the headset mics and occasional static in the sound system) spot-on in their harmonies (music direction by Joe Trainor) and expressive in their perfectly synchronized movement (choreography by Dawn Morningstar andTommy Fisher-Klein), fully exploiting the black box theater’s long cabaret tables and aisles, as well as the high stage and platforms.
The set (by Vicki Neal and Richard Kendrick) simultaneously evokes urban blight and lives under construction, and fashions (costume design by Lauren Peters and Kerry Kristine McElrone) come straight off the streets and out of the clubs of the recent past. Even if you’re not in the throes of post-adolescence or budding adulthood, this passionately bold, oddly beautiful, and deeply affecting production offers audiences of all ages eternal wisdom, a haunting nostalgia for wasted youth, and dulcet reflections on the “Time of Your Life.” If only you knew then what you know now.
In keeping with CTC’s desire to make this “as much a party as it is a production,” drinks are available for purchase before the show. With or without them, this astounding ninety minutes of punk insight will stagger you. [The Black Box at Opera Delaware Studios, 4 South Poplar St., Wilmington, DE] April 10-25, 2015; city-theater.org.