In 2004, Billie Joe Armstrong and his Green Day bandmates created a rock opera for the millennial generation, “American Idiot.” Less than a decade later, the songs were formed into a full stage musical at the hands of Michael Mayer with Armstrong’s guidance.
After a Broadway run and national tour, central Indiana actors are bringing the show to life at The Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis, with direction by Brian Fonseca and Emily Ristine.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if you do not like the music of Green Day — or the West Coast punk band’s more theatrical recent albums — this might not be the show for you. The songs are mainly from the album “American Idiot,” with a couple from “21st Century Breakdown,” and an older, but appropriate, hit at the curtain call.
But for those who are fans or are open to the experience, the angry, nearly schizophrenic anthems of the concept album have been crafted into an engaging, relatable story of the desire to escape and find one’s purpose in “a world of make-believe that don’t believe in me.” The plot owes a lot to “Hair,” and “West Side Story” has been cited as an influence.
Johnny (Spencer Curnutt) declares himself the “Jesus of Suburbia” — a rebel without a cross — and seeks to escape to the big city, “our lives on Holiday,” with his best friends Will (Matthew Lee) and Tunny (Lincoln Slenz). But Will has impregnated his girlfriend, Heather (Carly Kincannon), and accepts his responsibility and stays, leaving him to wonder what might have been.
Johnny finds potential love with the girl, Whatsername (Lisa Ermel), and drug-fueled excitement with the mysterious, hypnotic St. Jimmy (Eric J. Olson). Meanwhile, Tunny desperately feels the need for direction and follows the siren call of military recruiting ads to find himself in the line of fire overseas.
In the second act, our three young men find themselves “in ruins.” For Tunny, it’s more literal with his war wounds; but he finds comfort in an Extraordinary Girl (Lydia Burke).
The performances are phenomenal. Curnutt and Lee are strong, both as singers and actors. Ermel is marvelous in what is likely her last show before going to graduate school in the fall. Kincannon shines as a woman with a family yet feeling alone. Olson menacingly takes charge of the stage, making one wonder if Johnny could truly purge Jimmy from his life.
Slenz and the angelic Burke complete their sharp performances with a heartbreaking ballet scene. Notable performers from the ensemble include Brandon Alstott as “a rock-n-roll boyfriend” and Olivia Huntley as the voice of Heather’s frustrated subconscious.
Kudos also to the onstage band (musical direction by Tim Brickley and Jeanne Bowling), Fonseca’s stage design and Michael Moffatt’s lighting, as well as choreography by Cherri Jaffee and Mariel Greenlee, which was reminiscent of the dance moves in the 2011 Phoenix production of “Spring Awakening,” which featured some of the same actors and similar frustrations of youth.