Generation Y-ers have set up shop for the next couple weeks at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts in the very best of the five incarnations I’ve seen so far of Green Day’s addictive rock musical American Idiot.
Introduced to New York audiences back in 2010 as “The Groundbreaking Broadway Musical,” American Idiot broke ground aplenty with its high-volume soundtrack, expletive-laced lyrics, and Fuck-The-Establishment attitude.
Based largely on Green Day’s 2004 concept album of the same name, American Idiot recounts A Year In The Life of three societally alienated best friends and does so almost entirely in song (music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong) plus the barest minimum of dialog (book by Armstrong and Michael Mayer).
The Green Day Musical introduces us to best buds Johnny (Sean Garner), Tunny (Patrick Riley), and Will (Ian Brininstool), whose plans for an escape from the stifling constraints of suburbia pan out for only the first two, Will opting not so willingly to stay behind with his pregnant girlfriend Heather (Ellie Wyman).
Life in Metropolis proves too much for Tunny, who ends up enlisting in the Army and getting shipped off to desert combat. Johnny, on the other hand, sticks it out in the big city with a girl named Whatsername (Jordan Kai Burnett), a devilish alter ego known as St. Jimmy (A.J. Mendoza), and a possibly heroin-induced Extraordinary Girl (Ashley Loren).
With its punk rock score, nihilistic storylines, and profusion of sex, drugs, and the F word, American Idiot makes its rock musical predecessor Rent seem relatively tame by comparison, yet it never lets us forget the humanity of its three heroes, particularly as directed Brian Kite, who smartly puts the emphasis on storytelling as Green Day’s songs weave their infectious spell.
For a genre not generally known for its melodies, Green Day’s are so unexpectedly tuneful and catchy beneath the pulsating drum beats and electric guitar licks that even those not accustomed to listening to contemporary rock may find themselves humming along.
A dialog-free story line made up of songs not written with a plot-driven Broadway musical in mind has made it tough for previous American Idiot audiences to figure out what’s happening to whom. (The musical includes all the songs from the band’s 2004 American Idiot album, plus added tracks from 21st Century Breakdown, and songs recorded for but not included on the American Idiot CD).
Not so in Brian Kite’s accomplished hands.
The master director takes full advantage of the up-close-and-personal nature of La Mirada’s ONSTAGE series, which situates an audience of 199 smack dab atop the stage of the 1261-seat La Mirada Theatre, a performing area expansive enough for a sensational cast of seventeen to electrify us with Dana Solimando’s head-bangingly exciting, athletic, endlessly inventive choreography, while at the same time allowing us to focus on each character’s individual journey.
Aiding immeasurably is video projection designer Jonathan Infante’s array of nonstop LED visuals that fill the upstage wall electronic billboard-style, images that make it instantly clear precisely where we are, whether in suburbia, at a Greyhound station, beneath downtown skyscrapers, or at a big-city rave, all the while dazzling us with their mix of the real and the phantasmic, whether it’s Johnny on heroin or Will on pot or Tunney on hospital-administered drugs.
Leading men Garner, Reilly, and Brininstool give Broadway’s most charismatic, vocally gifted stars a run for their money, creating three thrillingly, heartbreakingly authentic young men in search of direction amidst aimless lives, opposite the trio of stunners that is Burnett, Loren, and Wyman, with Mendoza’s darkly sexy rocker St. Jimmy thrown in for dangerous spice.
As for Juan Caballer, Alexander Garland, Bella Hicks, Jackson Hinden, dance captain Dylan Hoffinger, Billy Kametz, Adrianna Rose Lyons, Chris Marcos, Nina Schreckengost and Charlotte Mary Wen, there’s not a more spectacularly talented ensemble in town, each one creating a distinctive character (or set of characters) with whom we immediately identify.
Scenic designer Rich Rose gives these American Idiots plenty of room on which to dance, while adding appropriate bits of furniture—most notably a couch, a mattress, and a hospital gurney—along the way, with properties designer Kevin Williams throwing in assorted drug paraphernalia and other knickknacks as needed.
Steven Young’s lighting design is as excitingly flashy as lighting designs get, illuminating costume designer Thomas G. Marquez’s edgy array of fantasy and grunge and Katie McCoy’s equally fantastic, grungy hair and makeup.
As for David O’s musical direction, expect to have your ears thrilled by the sensational eight-piece band he conducts and plays keyboards in, with Josh Besson’s crystal-clear sound design ensuring you’ll catch just about every word being sung.
Donna R. Parsons is production stage manager and Heidi Westrom is assistant stage manager. David Cruise is technical director. Gretchen Dawson is associate choreographer.
Casting is by Julia Flores, who once again finds L.A.-based talent to match Broadway’s best.
Green Day’s American Idiot has now supplanted Rent and Spring Awakening as my current rock musical fave, with La Mirada Theatre For the Performing Arts’s great-big intimate staging setting the bar high indeed for the many more American Idiots I plan on seeing in the months and years to come.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
April 30, 2016
Photos: Jason Niedle