Green Day goes to the theater

What happened offstage at Wednesday’s opening of “American Idiot” was just as exciting as what happened onstage: Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s sold-out auditorium was packed with people well under 30 — clearly, a good thing.

That attendance, and the fact that the show’s run already has been extended, isn’t entirely surprising, given Green Day’s international popularity as well as its hometown appeal.

But will the world-premiere rock opera based on the East Bay band’s monster 2004 album be the savior of live theater for generations to come? Not necessarily.

The show has lots going for it: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool’s quintessentially 21st century score of melodic rock songs, for one major thing.

Skillfully arranged for an eight-piece band, including a standout string section, they sound terrific, sung by a crack team of youthful, almost too good-looking Broadway professionals under the direction of Michael Mayer.

Mayer, who had a hit with “Spring Awakening,” returns to a familiar theme of teen angst in “Idiot,” which ultimately, undeniably captures the mood of alienated youth throughout the show, thanks to the sheer power of the songs.

Yet the story — a loosely defined coming-of-age tale about an angry suburban kid Johnny (John Gallagher Jr.), his friends, his demons, his lover — remains thin.

Surface characters, an undeveloped plot, MTV-inspired choreography and costumes that look too much like costumes (or like they were supplied by fashion experts at Levi’s, a show sponsor) at times lend a lack of authenticity and keep viewers at a distance. 

It’s a quibble, though; early rock operas like “Tommy” or “Jesus Christ Superstar” were more spectacles than profoundly emotional experiences, weren’t they?

And “American Idiot” does have its moving moments, particularly with its biggest hits and the most hummable songs, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” – great tunes that accurately describe the travails of contemporary kids.

A couple of tunes not on the original album were added, to little effect, although Green Day diehards may feel differently.

The set’s dominant element is its back wall, which stretches up to a high ceiling and is appropriately dotted with flat video screens — surely a sign of the new century.

Some theatrical tricks, particularly the Disney-like flying (a la Peter Pan) in “Extraordinary Girl” add a bit of a classic musical feel to the show.

While the place “American Idiot” will play in the annals of stage history remains to be seen, it nonetheless is making a positive mark on the local scene, opening the world of theater to people who’ve not experienced its power before.

THEATER REVIEW

American Idiot

Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 1

Tickets: $16 to $95

Contact: (510) 647-2949; www.berkeleyrep.org
 

artsentertainment

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Those who stick around San Francisco on long holiday weekends can enjoy a slower pace, uncrowded streets and beloved institutions like cable cars. <ins>(Kevin Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
These empty San Francisco streets: A holiday dream

We’re here because we can be, and because we have nowhere else to be

It’s disheartening to see that Bill Graham Civic’s marquee isn’t announcing upcoming concerts. (Screenshot/Bill Graham Civic Twitter)
A cruise through The City with the ghosts of rides past

I take my time and don’t even mind the occasional traffic jams

A ban on smoking or vaping in multi-unit buildings has drawn opposition from cannabis advocates, who say it would leave users with no legal place to consume a legal substance. (Shutterstock)
Cannabis group slams Yee’s proposed apartment smoking ban as ‘classist’

Legislation would impose fines of $1,000 a day on repeat violators

The most dangerous behaviors by drivers include failing to yield right-of-way at crosswalks, unsafe speeding and failing to stop at red lights or stop signs. <ins>(Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, which supplies water to San Francisco, is among the concerns of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is undergoing a change of leadership. <ins>(Courtesy SFPUC)</ins>
Changes in leadership at SFPUC spark concern, hope for future water policy

Will agency’s new commissioner continue to support Big Ag?

Most Read