Cupcake Theater follows its family-friendly welcome-back-to-the-sixties Hairspray revival with the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll of Green Day’s American Idiot, every bit the crowd-pleaser of its predecessor (but with parental discretion advised).
Introduced to New York audiences back in 2010 as “The Groundbreaking Broadway Musical,” American Idiot broke ground indeed with its high-volume soundtrack, expletive-laced book and 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 (Chris Marcos), Tunny (Dorian Keyes), and Will (Thomas Adoue Polk), 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 (Rachel Osting).
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 (ThurZday), a devilish alter ego known as St. Jimmy (Andrew Diego), and a possibly heroin-induced Extraordinary Girl (Kelly Hancock).
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.
As for AI’s music score, Green Day’s melodies turn out to be so unexpectedly melodic and catchy under the pulsating drum beats and electric guitar licks that even those not accustomed to listening to contemporary rock may find themselves humming as they leave the theater.
Minus a traditional “book,” American Idiot The Musical can easily end up little more than a succession of Green Day’s Greatest Hits, which is why imaginative direction is imperative to provide audiences with a coherent storyline, and director Ezra Weisz scores high marks for insuring our ability to follow Johnny, Tunny, and Will’s very different journeys.
For instance, Weisz has Will spending virtually the entire show on his stage-right sofa, a savvy directorial choice that spotlights the character’s isolation and stagnation as his best buddies go off to explore the world away from home.
At the same time, Weisz knows when to keep things simple, as in Johnny’s guitar solos, or when to remind us of our lead players’ life trajectories, as when “Novocain” juxtaposes all three in a tableau of sex, drugs, and war.
Robert Broadfoot’s scenic design concept (a single graffiti art-backed set throughout) encourages directorial ingenuity, take for instance the pair of flashlights taking the place of a more literal bus during “Holiday,” a production number that factors in a life-sized Trump and gas mask-sporting citizenry.
Leading man Marcos’s previous dance turns in In The Heights and La Mirada’s AI did not prepare me for his revelatory performance, powerhouse acting, vocals, and guitar-strumming making his Johnny quite possibly the most stand-out star turn of those I’ve seen.
Keyes and Polk provide terrific support as Tunny and Will, as do vocal dynamo ThurZday and exotic dance delight Hancock. As St. Jimmy, SoCal vocal star Diego reprises the satanic sizzler like a man possessed. As for Heather, not only is Osting gorgeous to look but a uniquely blessed singer as well.
Mecca Andrews’ endlessly varied high-energy choreography gives AI’s song-and-dance ensemble the workout of a lifetime, choreographic challenges more than met by Eric Stanton Betts, Kelly Dorsey, David Jurbala, Natalie Llerena, Vanessa Magula, Katie McConaughy, Rehyan Rivera, and Justin Robinson even as musical director Tom Harrison has them vocalizing to perfection without missing a beat or even seeming to pause for breath. (A 6’4” briefs-and-nothing-else-clad “Favorite Son” Stanton in particular dazzles as singer, dancer, and acrobat.)
James Smith III’s flashy lighting design and a bevy of grungy-to-flashy costumes add to the visual excitement, with Zach Stauffer’s sound design guaranteeing a clear mix of vocals and live instrumentals by band members Harrison, Alec de Kervor, Jon Butterworth, and Frogs.
American Idiot is produced by Michael Pettenato. Sabrina Weisz is assistant director. McConaughy doubles as stage manager.
Green Day’s American Idiot is that rarity among Broadway smashes, one as likely to attract those who’d never ever opt to “go see a musical” as those who’d be first in line for the latest Hairspray revival. If last night’s audience reaction is any indication, Cupcake Studios look to have a head-banging Spring Of 2017 hit on their hands.
Cupcake Theater, 11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Through May 20. Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00
March 17, 2017
Photos: Sabrina Weisz